July 17, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Written Advisement Form Does Not Satisfy ICWA Notice Requirements

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of J.L. on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act—Tribal Notification Requirements.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, the trial court first inquired about the applicability of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) at the termination hearing after orally ordering termination of parental rights. When the inquiry was made, mother responded that both she and the father had Native American blood and she and her family had been “kicked off the tribe.” At a subsequent hearing, mother indicated she had Indian heritage through her biological family and named several tribes. She stated she was an adoptee, but her biological mother would know of her tribal affiliation. The Alamosa County Department of Human Services (Department) stated it did not believe the ICWA applied, but failed to describe the efforts it had made to determine whether any of the children was an Indian child, and the record contained no evidence that the Department sent notice to the tribes named. Mother appealed the judgment terminating her parent–child legal relationship with her children.

C.R.S. § 19-1-126(1)(a) requires the petitioning party to make continuing inquiries to determine whether the child subject to the proceeding is an Indian child. The petitioning party must also disclose in the commencing pleading whether the child is an Indian child and the identity of the child’s tribe, or what efforts the petitioner made to determine whether the child is an Indian child. The Bureau of Indian Affairs regulations and guidelines also contain notice and inquiry provisions for trial courts and require trial courts to ask participants in emergency or voluntary or involuntary child-custody proceedings whether they know or have reason to know that the child is an Indian child. This inquiry is made at the commencement of the proceeding, and all responses should be on the record. Departments must directly notify each concerned tribe by registered mail with return receipt of the pending proceedings and its right to intervene.

Here, the trial court’s inquiry should have been made at the first hearing after the petition in dependency and neglect was filed and again at the start of the termination proceeding. Mother’s disclosures gave the trial court reason to believe the children were Indian children. The Department did not comply with the ICWA’s notice requirements.

The Department contended that mother’s signing of a written advisement of her rights, which included a question about the ICWA, served as the court’s initial inquiry. The inquiry should be made on the record. Regardless, the Court of Appeals found that the Department failed to send notice to the appropriate tribes when mother identified a reason to believe the children were Indian children.

The case was remanded with instructions for the limited purpose of directing the Department to send appropriate notice to the Kiowa Indian Tribe of Oklahoma and the Pueblo of Taos.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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