Alaska Supreme Court on Active Efforts [ICWA]


I very nearly made an inadvertent broken record pun here, but seriously, I do talk about making a clean record a lot. OCS didn’t even manage to document state law requirements in this case. And in the continuing theme of this afternoon’s ICWA cases–the requirements of ICWA stand regardless of whether the agency finds the parents cooperative or not.

Like the superior court, we are underwhelmed by the quality of OCS’s testimony. We agree with the court’s observation that OCS “made a rather lackadaisical effort” and “put on a skeletal case about [its] required active efforts.” The superior court was rightly concerned to doubt OCS’s demonstration of active efforts. We acknowledge that the superior court concluded that OCS met its burden due in large part to “the consideration the Court is to give to the parents’ demonstration of an unwillingness to change or participate in rehabilitative efforts.” While this principle remains valid, the parents’ lack of effort does not excuse OCS’s failure to make and demonstrate its efforts. Even considering the parents’ lack of participation, there is simply insufficient evidence in the record to show that OCS made active efforts. It was legal error for the superior court to conclude by clear and convincing evidence that OCS made active efforts to reunify the family.

A related but distinct problem is OCS’s failure to document its active efforts in detail in the record. While documentation is related to OCS’s duty to make active efforts, documenting those efforts is a separate responsibility. The act of documentation is not itself an “active effort”; rather, it is a mechanism for OCS and the court to ensure that active efforts have been made. Documentation is required by ICWA and is critical to compliance with ICWA’s purpose and key protections. The CINA statute also requires OCS to document its provision of family reunification support services. But such documentation is woefully missing here.