June 27, 2017

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 The petition was later withdrawn and the case closed.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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dependency and Neglect Court Should Have Followed ICWA’s Notice Requirements

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of L.L. on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Dependency and NeglectIndian Child Welfare ActNoticeBurden of Proof.

In this dependency and neglect case concerning L.L., his mother, A.T., told the juvenile court at a shelter hearing that she had possible Apache Native American ancestry. Later, A.T. filed written information that included tribal card numbers and roll numbers. The Denver Department of Human Services (Department) did not send notice of the proceedings to any of the Apache Tribes. A.T. again stated that she had Indian heritage at a pretrial hearing, but the juvenile court did not address whether the Department used due diligence to identify and work with an Apache Tribe to verify whether L.L. is a member or is eligible for tribal membership. The court also did not treat L.L. as an Indian child pending verification from the tribe. Following a jury verdict, the court adjudicated L.L. dependent and neglected.

On appeal, A.T. contended that the order should be reversed because the Department did not comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) notice requirements. First, when there is “reason to know” the child is an Indian child, the juvenile court must ensure that the Department sends notice to any identified Indian Tribe. Second, the court must “[t]reat the child as an Indian child, unless and until it is determined on the record that the child does not meet the definition of an ‘Indian child.’” Here, the Department did not meet its obligation to provide notice of the proceedings to any of the Apache Tribes. The juvenile court did not address whether the Department used due diligence to identify and work with an Apache Tribe to verify whether L.L. was a member or was eligible for membership and did not treat L.L. as an Indian child pending the Tribes’ verification.

A.T. also contended that the juvenile court violated ICWA by not requiring the jury to base its findings on a heightened clear and convincing evidentiary standard. There is no language in ICWA or associated rules or guidelines that indicates a heightened burden of proof for the adjudicatory hearing in a dependency and neglect proceeding. Thus, the state is only required to prove the allegations in the petition by a preponderance of the evidence in all adjudications, whether involving Indian or non-Indian children. The juvenile court did not err when it instructed the jury regarding the Department’s burden of proof.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Transfer to Tribal Court Denied Because Dependency and Neglect Proceedings At Advanced Stage

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of T.E.R. on Thursday, May 9, 2013.

Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act—Termination of Parent–Child Legal Relationship.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, mother and father appealed from the order denying transfer of jurisdiction to a tribal court under 25 USC § 1911(b) of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Father also appealed the judgment terminating the parent–child legal relationship between him and his child, T.E.R. The order and judgment were affirmed.

In September 2011, the Department of Human Services of the City and County of Denver (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect based on mother’s substance abuse and mental health issues and father’s incarceration. In October 2011, the Department sent a notice to the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa (Tribe), pursuant to the ICWA, based on mother’s report that she was registered with the Tribe. The Tribe responded that it intended to intervene. Before it did so, the juvenile court adjudicated T.E.R. dependent and neglected and adopted treatment plans for mother and father.

In May 2012, the Tribe moved to intervene, alleging that T.E.R. was eligible for membership. The juvenile court granted the motion. The Department then moved to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights.

In July 2012, mother moved to transfer jurisdiction to tribal court. The Department and guardian ad litem (GAL) opposed, arguing that good cause existed to deny the motion, because the case was at an advanced stage and could not be adequately presented in the tribal court without undue hardship to the parties or witnesses. In October 2012, after hearing arguments but not taking evidence, the court found good cause to deny the transfer. Following a two-day hearing, the juvenile court entered judgment terminating mother’s and father’s parental rights.

On appeal, mother and father contended it was error to find good cause to deny transfer of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals disagreed.

The state and the tribe have concurrent jurisdiction under the ICWA over Indian children who live off the reservation. The tribal court is the preferred jurisdiction and, in the absence of good cause, the state must transfer jurisdiction to the tribe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has issued guidelines for determining whether good cause exists. As relevant, those guidelines provide that good cause exists if the proceeding was at an advanced stage when the petition to transfer was received, or if the evidence necessary to decide the case could not be adequately presented in the tribal court without undue hardship to the parties or witnesses. The determination is within the juvenile court’s discretion. The Court found that substantial evidence in the record supported the juvenile court’s finding of good cause to deny transfer for the reasons stated.

The Court declined to address father’s argument regarding the transfer of jurisdiction because he failed to raise it in the juvenile court; therefore, it was waived. The order and judgment were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Erred in Deviating from ICWA Preference for Placement and Adoption in Dependency and Neglect Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of A.R., and Concerning F.N. on Thursday, November 8, 2012.

Dependency and Neglect—Parental Rights—Termination—Indian Child Welfare Act—Active Efforts.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, mother appealed from the judgment terminating her parent–child legal relationship with A.R. The Department of Human Services (Department) joined mother’s appeal of the termination and also challenged that part of the judgment addressing the Department’s guardianship. The judgment terminating mother’s parental rights was affirmed, the part of the judgment addressing guardianship was reversed, and the case was remanded.

Because A.R. is an “Indian child” as defined in 25 USC § 1903(4), these proceedings were subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 USC §§ 1901 to 1963. Mother contended that the court erred in terminating her parental rights. She asserted that the Department did not meet the ICWA’s “active efforts” requirement, and there were viable, less drastic alternatives to termination, including A.R.’s placement with A.W. and C.W. The ICWA’s “active efforts” standard requires more effort than the “reasonable effort” standard in non-ICWA cases. Here, despite the court’s use of the term “best efforts,” the record supports the court’s determination that the Department’s actions met the requisite “active efforts” standard under the ICWA with regard to mother, A.W. and C.W. The trial court found, with record support, that although mother substantially complied with her treatment plan, it was unsuccessful in rendering her a fit parent and that her conduct or condition was not likely to change within a reasonable time. It also found that A.R. needs lifelong care or intensive services for her special needs, and mother was unable to provide those services. Additionally, placement with A.W. and C.W. without terminating mother’s parental rights was not a less drastic alternative; A.R. needed permanency, so it was not in her best interests.

The Department contended that, even if the court’s termination of mother’s parental rights was proper, the court erroneously deviated from the ICWA’s placement preferences when, in granting the Department guardianship, it denied the Department permission to place A.R. with A.W. and C.W. for purposes of adoption. The ICWA presumes that the child’s best interests are served by placement with an extended family member who also has Indian heritage. Here, the record does not support the trial court’s finding that there was good cause to deviate from the ICWA’s placement preferences. Therefore, the court erred in deviating from the ICWA’s placement preferences. The trial court’s judgment was reversed in this regard and the case was remanded with directions for the court to allow the department to arrange a home visit with A.W. and C.W., and to consider an adoption or preadoptive placement of A.R. consistent with the ICWA placement preferences, including possible placement with A.W. and C.W. or her foster parents.

Summary and full case available here.