Wisconsin Speakers Taskforce on Adoption Looking at Speeding up Adoptions

Press releases: Speakers Taskforce on Adoption Membership 052919
Speakers Taskforce on Adoption 051419

Any tribal member and/or tribe can give testimony on this issue here:

Thursday, July 25, 2019
Unity School District Performing Arts Center
1908 150th St.
Balsam Lake, WI 54810
Start time: 12:00 noon
Please feel free to attend either session. If you would like time to speak please contact: Meagan Matthews at: 608-266-8551 or Meagan.Matthews@legis.wisconsin.gov

We would note that one outcome of the opioid epidemic is that some groups are pushing to terminate parental rights faster, particularly for children under the age of 3. A recent law passed in Arizona attempts to do just that, and was pushed by Generation Justice, a group founded by the recent past CEO of the Goldwater Institute.

ICWA Termination of Parental Rights Case out of Texas Court of Appeals

Opinion here.

On October 4, 2018, a federal district court in the Northern District of Texas issued an order declaring that portions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, including its placement preferences, are unconstitutional for several reasons, including that it violates equal protection and improperly requires state agencies to apply federal standards to state claims. See Brackeen v. Zinke, Civil Action No. 4:17-cv-00868-O, — F.Supp.3d —, 2018 WL 4927908 (N.D. Tex., October 4, 2018). In the Brackeen case, foster and adoptive parents, and the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana filed suit against the United States, United States Department of the Interior and its Secretary, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and its Director, BIA Principal Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Secretary seeking a declaration that Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unconstitutional. Id. The Department contends that the United District Court’s order renders J.R.M.’s complaints moot, but the order does not indicate that the plaintiffs challenged the specific ICWA provisions at issue in this case. Further, the Brackeen case may be appealed and ICWA has previously been upheld by the United – 5 – States Supreme Court. See Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30, 109 S.Ct. 1597, 104 L.Ed.2d 29 (1989). Therefore, we will address the merits of the issues raised on appeal.

Montana Supreme Court ICWA Case


The Montana Supreme Court continues to apply Baby Girl to absent fathers involved in state initiated proceedings, and not apply ICWA when terminating their rights.

Appellant Brief

Appellee Brief

Appellant Reply

Consent to Termination of Parental Rights Decision in Michigan Supreme Court

Opinion here

The ICWA Appellate Clinic co-represented the tribe in this case.

This case involves a complicated question of state statute interpretation regarding a voluntary consent to a termination of parental right in the face of a state termination petition. In this case, the dad consented to termination before the termination hearing. The children were later placed in a tribal-approved foster placement, and the dad withdrew his consent to termination. The question was whether dad could do that under Michigan statute.

None of the protections in MCL 712B.15, [mirroring ICWA’s main protections in an involuntary proceeding] which are designed for contested and adversarial proceedings, remains relevant once a parent voluntarily releases his or her rights under MCL 712B.13. When the court accepted Williams’s release, and the proceedings went from adversarial to cooperative, the protections of MCL 712B.15 did not apply.

However, the Court also held,

That is, Williams may withdraw his consent, but because he is still subject to MCL 712B.15, DHHS may refile a termination petition. MCL 712B.15. And, under MCL 712B.13(3), a parent who consents during an involuntary termination proceeding is not entitled to “the return of the Indian child” to him or her.

Instead, the child returns to the position the child was in before his or her parent consented to the termination of parental rights. Williams’s children were in foster care when he consented to the termination of his parental rights, his children will remain in foster care, and Williams will be once again subject to the procedures and protections of MCL 712B.15. DHHS may proceed with its termination case if it chooses, and if DHHS can satisfy the heightened requirements of MCL 712B.15, Williams’s parental rights can be terminated.

Briefing on the case is here.

Montana Supreme Court ICWA Case on Termination Standards


Appellant M.D. (Father) challenges the Thirteenth Judicial District Court’s decision to terminate his parental rights to his minor child, A.L.D. Father contends that the State of Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (Department) did not provide the active efforts required under 25 U.S.C. § 1912(d) to prevent the breakup of an Indian family; that A.L.D. was placed in a foster home in violation of the placement preferences set forth in 25 U.S.C. § 1915; and that Father’s attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.

Appellant Brief



Briefing Completed in Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act Case

At the Michigan Supreme Court:

Order Granting Review

Appellant (Father)’s Brief

Appellee (Macomb County/State)’s Brief

Sault Tribe Amicus Brief (MSU Indian Law Clinic, ICWA Appellate Project co-wrote this brief)

American Indian Law Section_AmicusBrief

Appellant Reply

Oral Argument Scheduling Order

Termination of Parental Rights Decision out of Wisconsin


The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed a termination of parental rights decision under ICWA and WICWA using Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (finding abandonment/lack of continued custody by non-Indian father).

ICWA Expert Witness Case out of Colorado

Opinion here. The Colorado Court disagrees with holdings in Montana and Michigan on the same issue–what does a qualified expert witness have to say for it to count under 25 U.S.C. 1912(f).

Congress’s primary reason for requiring qualified expert testimony was to prevent courts from basing decisions “solely upon the testimony of social workers who possessed neither the specialized professional education nor the familiarity with Native [American] culture necessary to distinguish between cultural variations in child-rearing practices and actual abuse or neglect.” Steven H., 190 P.3d at 185 (quoting L.G. v. State, 14 P.3d 946, 952- 53 (Alaska 2000)). This purpose would not necessarily be furthered by a requirement that an expert witness recite the precise language of 25 U.S.C. § 1912(f).


Although [the Regulations and Guidelines] emphasize the need for a qualified expert witness to offer testimony supporting a finding regarding likely damage to the child, they stop short of demanding a verbatim recitation of the statutory standard by the expert.


Additionally, the Department presented testimony from a
qualified expert witness under ICWA — a social worker with Navajo Children and Family Services. The social worker did not directly opine that the child would suffer damage in mother’s care. Rather, when asked to give her opinion regarding whether the child would suffer serious emotional or physical harm if returned to a parent, the social worker indicated that mother had not fulfilled the treatment requirements to address the reasons for the child being placed in the Department’s custody. The social worker also testified that the recent domestic violence issues between the parents were concerning.

ICWA Inquiry Case out of Colorado Court of Appeals


To decide if the trial court complied with ICWA, we must answer a question that has yet to be decided in Colorado: When a trial court inquires at an initial temporary custody hearing at the commencement of the dependency and neglect proceeding whether there is a reason to know that the child is an Indian child, must it make another inquiry when termination is sought? We conclude that the answer is “yes,” at least when the court has not already identified the child as an Indian child and the petitioning party has not disclosed what efforts it has made to determine if the child is an Indian child.

Termination of Parental Rights ICWA Case Out of Missouri


This case is illustrative of a lot of the things we talk about regarding practicing in an unfamiliar forum, and getting objections on the record.

The Tribe (Nenana Native Village) brought an appeal regarding the termination of parental rights, though the Tribe also has motions pending at the trial level to transfer jurisdiction and/or get the children in a preferred placement.

The state filed its petition against the Mom on June 11, 2015. The state sent notice on February 23, 2016. No reason for the eight month delay on notice is given in the opinion. In November of 2016 the state filed a petition to terminate parental rights. At that time, Mom agreed to voluntarily relinquish her parental rights. This is a regular issue under ICWA, because while Mom is voluntarily relinquishing, it is under state threat of termination. The Tribe argued that the state needed to at least follow 25 U.S.C. 1913’s requirements for voluntary relinquishment (it didn’t).

The court agreed the tribe had standing to bring the appeal (after much writing, but 25 U.S.C. 1914 ensures the tribe’s standing to appeal violations of 1911, 1912, or 1913), but disagreed that either the qualified expert witness was a problem, or that the state not following 1913 was a “manifest injustice”.

As a side note, the court also fundamentally misunderstands the difference between federal guidelines and federal regulations:

The Tribe’s argument on this point relies upon 25 C.F.R. Sec. 23.122(a), which provides guidance in interpreting Section 1912(f). Promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and published as regulations for interpreting the I.C.W.A., Section 23.122 notes that: [a] qualified expert must be qualified to testify regarding whether the child’s continued custody by the parent . . . is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child and should be qualified to testify as to the prevailing social and cultural standards of the Indian child’s Tribe. 25 C.F.R. Sec. 23.122(a).

We note that while “[t]hese guidelines are helpful[, they] are not binding upon state proceedings.” C.E.H., 837 S.W.2d at 953 (citing Matter of Adoption of T.R.M., 525 N.E.2d 298, 307 (Ind. 1988)). This is because the “primary responsibility for interpreting language used in the [I.C.W.A.] rests with the courts that decide . . . cases [involving Native American children].” Id.

Finally, case also illustrates a point Victoria Sweet and I have presented on a number of times–preserving the record for appeal. Part of the issue with the case is the lack of objection from the Tribe below about the QEW, her testimony, or the termination itself. There are a lot of reasons why this might happen, but I’m using this case to reiterate: if a tribe disagrees with something that is happening in trial court, SAY SO OUT LOUD IN COURT (on the record).  It might be terrifying to do so. The judge might get angry, but ultimately the proceeding will continue. Later, though, if the tribe decides to appeal, the issue is preserved. Absent that preservation, the court of appeals will use a lower standard to review the trial court (if it reviews it at all), and as in this case, use a “plain error” standard and find there is none.

This is an opinion full of incredibly annoying legal details the court wanted the Tribe do to, while the state failed to follow any of the legal details in ICWA.