Alaska Tribal Court Selected for Dependency Court Project

The Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Child Dependency Court under the leadership of Judge Debra O’Gara been selected by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) as one of six new courts to join their Implementation Sites Project, which helps to improve outcomes for abused and neglected children and their families.

Full press release available here alaska-implementation-pr-final-02232017.

From the release:

The NCJFCJ Implementation Sites Project, which is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, provides child abuse and neglect courts with training, technical assistance and support to guide program improvement, sustainability and performance. As part of their involvement in this project, Implementation Sites are expected to implement meaningful change, evaluate progress as well as share challenges and successes with other courts across the country.

“Tribal justice systems are growing and evolving to address to the needs and issues of tribal communities. It is vitally important that tribal courts continue to learn, benefit, and share information through the NCJFCJ’s Implementation Site Project,” said Nikki Borchardt Campbell, Executive Director of the National American Indian Judges Court Association.

The Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Child Dependency Court, in Juneau, Alaska, began last year through an extensive partnership with the Tribal and Youth Services and the State of Alaska Office of Children Services. In the last decade, the Tribe’s court system has grown quickly beginning with child welfare including child support and paternity cases. Recently, the Tribal court has begun to hear domestic violence protection orders, custody, divorce, guardianship, and adoption cases. The Tribal court is also developing a juvenile wellness court, focused primarily on early intervention and prevention for youth whom are at risk of being involved in the criminal justice system.

“Being a part of the NCJFCJ’s Implementation Sites Project will not only help grow and expand our Tribal court in the child welfare area of services, but would greatly benefit our court’s needs for technical assistance, practical tools, and collaborative assessment,” said the Honorable Debra O’Gara, lead judge of the project.

“We look forward to collaborating with the NCJFCJ to strengthen the court’s infrastructure through data collection, forms and templates, staff training, and greater access to current research and trends in child and family needs to build up the infrastructure to handle the growing case load. I firmly believe that we have much to learn from the knowledge and experience of other judges and courts around the nation on how to best expand and improve the court’s outcomes for our children and families.”

The Judges’ Page Devotes Issue to the Topic of Tribal Issues in Dependency Court

The Judges’ Page, a newsletter published by the National CASA Association and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, has just released the summer 2015 issue.  The entire issue is devoted to the theme Tribal Issues in Dependency Court.

The newsletter is available here.

From Judge Dean Lewis (ret):

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and the National CASA Association are partners in publishing The Judges’ Page. Both organizations are deeply committed to effective court advocacy for American Indian and Alaska Native children and families involved in dependency court proceedings. This issue of The Judges’ Page addresses the importance of compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) from the legal as well as the cultural perspective. The issue provides effective educational tools for ICWA implementation and offers examples of collaborations between state and tribal courts.

Readers should be aware that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) issued updated Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceeding effective February 25, 2015. The updated Guidelines are intended to promote compliance with ICWA’s stated goals and to provide best practices for ICWA compliance by state courts and child welfare agencies. In addition, on March 20, 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings. Recently, Congress passed two bills to help protect Native American Children: The Native American Children’s Safety Act and the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act. The Executive branch and the Congress are to be commended for their efforts to clarify the original intent of the ICWA, and to promote the health, safety, and well-being of Native Children.

The NCJFCJ Tribal Caucus identified key topics of concern to be addressed in this issue of The Judges’ Page. Our thanks to Victoria Sweet, Program Attorney at NCJFCJ, for seeking input from the Caucus and securing numerous articles for this issue. Donna Goldsmith was tasked with developing a primer for judges and advocates on key issues for implementation of the ICWA, and we appreciate her undertaking that project. Our thanks also to Judge Len Edwards and Jennifer Walter of the Center for Families, Children & the Courts of the Judicial Council of California for securing and writing articles that exhibit the remarkable best practices instituted throughout that state. And, to all of the authors who volunteered their time to contribute to this issue, thank you.

Articles in This Issue

Judge William A. Thorne, Jr. (ret), describes the background that led to the adoption of the Indian Child Welfare Act and its relevance to treatment of all children impacted by the child welfare process.

Donna Goldsmith, JD, informs readers of the ICWA legal requirements and provides a primer of how to proceed in ICWA cases utilizing the provisions of the BIA updated Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody.

Victoria Sweet, JD, gives an overview of the updated BIA Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings and proposed Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings.

Mary Beth Jager, MSW, Rachel Rose Starks, MA, Adrian T. Smith, JD, MSW, and Miriam Jorgensen, PhD, collaborated to share the history of tribal child welfare systems and lawmaking which have been recognized by the ICWA as the governance
mechanism by which a tribe establishes and implements jurisdiction for the wellbeing of Indian children.

Judge Leonard Edwards (ret.) discusses the ICWA active efforts requirement and distinguishes active efforts from reasonable efforts.

Victoria Sweet, JD, describes the commitment of NCJFCJ to implementation of the ICWA. She introduces readers to NCJFCJ publications and includes the recommendation of NCJFCJ that state court judges apply the recently revised Bureau of Indian Affairs ICWA Guidelines.

Paige Beard, Director of Program Development at the National CASA Association, provides background on the National CASA Association’s commitment to training and supporting CASA volunteers who serve Indian
children through Tribal Courts and Dual State Court/Tribal Court Programs.

Judge Korey Wahwassuck reports on how the joint tribal-state jurisdiction in Itasca County, MN, has proven effective in promoting lifetime healing while protecting public safety, and how this model can be used as a tool for reducing the number of children in out-of-home placement, as well as speeding reunification.

The California Judicial Council established a Tribal/State Projects Unit in 2009 as part of the Center for Families, Children & the Courts. This unit staffs the California Tribal Court-State Court Forum (forum), which was formed in 2010. Judges and staff share their perspectives on their collaborative work locally and statewide through the forum.

Judge Leonard Edwards (ret.) discusses the ICWA active efforts requirement and distinguishes active efforts from reasonable efforts.

Justice Jill Elizabeth Tompkins reviews the provisions of the ICWA and the updated Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings provisions regarding transfer of an Indian child’s case from a state court to a tribal court from the perspective of the tribal court.

Jack Trope, JD, and Sarah L. Kastelic, PhD, set out the ICWA placement preferences. They explain the limitation on the “good cause” exception as established in the updated Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings.

Claire Chiamulera of the ABA Center on Children and the Law shares her recommendations in “Best Practice for Native American and All Families” reprinted from Child Law Practice.

Kathryn E. Fort, JD, offers insight and best practices on ICWA cases involving military families.

Jessica Jorgensen, JD, offers her perspective on the issue of “good cause” to deviate from ICWA placement preferences.
Web Resources is an article that provides readers with the websites of organizations that produce educational materials on the ICWA as well as resources and assistance in implementation of the ICWA.