There is a lot going on in this case, including issues involving a GAL (best interests attorney) advocating for best interests rather than the child’s state interests and opposing transfer to tribal court, transfer to tribal court issues, and termination of parental rights issues. The Tribe made a solid run at trying to get the GAL removed for a stated interests attorney. South Dakota law is pretty clear that the appointed attorney for a child should be a BI attorney, and the Court stated:
We adopt this approach as it relates to a child’s attorney appointed in abuse and neglect proceedings pursuant to SDCL 26-8A-18. The child’s attorney appointed pursuant to the statute is required to advocate for the child’s best interest. However, when the attorney’s determination of what constitutes the child’s best interest conflicts with the child’s expressed wishes, the ethical obligations of the attorney require consultation with the child to insure that the child’s objectives are presented to the court, along with the basis for the attorney’s determination of the child’s best interest. This approach “gives priority to the paramount goal of discerning the child’s best interest while enabling the lawyer to advocate an opposing viewpoint without fear of ethical violation.” J.P.B., 419 N.W.2d at 392.
Ultimately the child did testify (which, ooof, if you read the opinion), and the Court affirmed the termination and the denial of transfer.
OCS correctly points out that “inadequate efforts in one period of state involvement do not render the entirety of [its] efforts inadequate, even when that period lasts for a matter of months.”28 And the superior court correctly found that OCS had made active efforts to reunify Clark and his children during the first two years of the case. But OCS’s failure to make adequate efforts in this case encompassed the subsequent two years, fully half of the time that the case was open. And its failure during that two year time period was extreme: OCS did not even attempt to contact Clark for a year and a half, and may have gone even longer without doing so if Clark had not initiated contact himself. OCS’s failure to make active efforts in the second two years of the case was so egregious that the efforts during the earlier period cannot make up for it. Because OCS’s efforts to reunite Clark with his family following his consent to guardianship were minimal at best, we reverse the superior court’s finding that OCS met the active efforts requirement.
Clark J. v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Servs., Off. of Children’s Servs., No. S-17797, 2021 WL 1232066, at *7 (Alaska Apr. 2, 2021)
A decision to file a TPR petition should be made in light of the impediments that a parent might face as a result of the pandemic. An agency should evaluate carefully whether parents have had a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that they have made the necessary efforts to reunify with their children before taking that step.
As such, I urge agencies to continue to consider the totality of each family’s circumstances prior to filing a TPR petition. During the pandemic and its aftermath, agencies also may want to consider instituting protocols that provide an extra layer of review prior to filing a TPR petition.
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.
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.
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.
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).