May 23, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Department of Human Services Must Make “Continuing Inquiries” About ICWA Status

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of A.D. on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Termination of Parental RightsIndian Child Welfare Act of 1978Continuing Inquiries.

In 2013, the Chaffee County Department of Social Services (Department) initiated a dependency and neglect proceeding involving Tr.D. Respondents denied the child was a member or eligible for membership in an Indian tribe, and the Department represented it had determined the child was not an Indian child. The petition was later withdrawn and the case closed.

In 2015, the Department initiated another dependency and neglect proceeding concerning Tr.D. and 6-month-old A.D. after mother and father were arrested on drug charges. The children were placed in foster care and adjudicated dependent and neglected. Treatment plans were developed for both parents, but neither could overcome their addictions. The Department ultimately filed a petition to terminate parental rights and stated that the children were not Indian children. No evidence concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was elicited at the termination hearing. The trial court terminated parental rights and found the provisions of the ICWA did not apply.

On appeal, mother argued that the record failed to support the court’s ICWA finding because no questions were asked about possible Indian heritage during the proceedings and therefore the Department didn’t meet its “continuing inquiry” duty under the ICWA. The Department argued that the ICWA issue was resolved in the prior case and the trial court satisfied the ICWA requirements in this case because it took judicial notice of its ICWA finding in the previous case. The Department reasoned that because A.D. is a full sibling of Tr.D., the court’s previous finding as to Tr.D. must also apply to her. The ICWA required the Department to conduct new inquiries to determine whether the children were Indian children. Because there was no evidence in the record of such inquiries, further proceedings were required.

Because the ICWA inquiry may result in the court determining that the children are not Indian children, the court of appeals addressed the other issues raised on appeal. Mother argued that the grounds for terminating her parental rights were not established by clear and convincing evidence. Based on the record before it, the court disagreed. Father argued that the record did not support the finding that reasonable efforts were made to avoid the removal of the children from their home and to promote reunification of the family. Specifically, father argued that a dispute over venue delayed his ability to participate in a drug program, averring that reasonable efforts required not just providing services, but providing services “at the right time.” The court determined that father waived his right to raise this issue when he expressly agreed to hold the motion to change venue in abeyance and therefore failed to seek a ruling from the court.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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