Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Juvenile Law
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Parents of the two children at issue in a juvenile dependency case repeatedly denied having any American Indian heritage. The social services agency spoke with several of the parents’ relatives but never asked those relatives whether the children had any American Indian heritage. Nearly 30 months into the proceedings and on appeal from the termination of her parental rights, the biological mother objected that the agency did not discharge its statutory duty to inquire whether her children might be “Indian children” within the meaning of the state’s broader version of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”).   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court explained that there is no dispute that the agency did not properly discharge its statutory duty. However, the critical inquiry is whether the error was harmless and how harmlessness is to be assessed. The court offered a fourth rule: An agency’s failure to discharge its statutory duty of initial inquiry is harmless unless the record contains information suggesting a reason to believe that the children at issue may be “Indian child[ren],” in which case further inquiry may lead to a different ICWA finding by the juvenile court.   Here, the court held that the error was harmless, because the record contains the parents’ repeated denials of American Indian heritage, because the parents were raised by their biological relatives, and because there is nothing else in the record to suggest any reason to believe that the parents’ knowledge of their heritage is incorrect. View "In re Dezi C." on Justia Law

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Mother appealed the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and disposition orders pertaining to her children, citing the court’s findings that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA; 25 U.S.C. 1901) did not apply to the dependency proceedings. She argued that evidence of her children’s Native American ancestry triggered the duty under state law (Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2(e)) to further investigate whether her children come within the federal Act.The court of appeal vacated and remanded. The Department of Family and Children’s Services failed to comply with the statutory duty to further investigate whether the children are Indian children; the juvenile court’s negative ICWA findings were based on insufficient evidence. The social worker’s initial inquiry established a reason to believe the children are Indian children; both the mother and the maternal grandfather stated that “a maternal great grandfather may have Native American ancestry in Minnesota.” The court rejected an argument that further inquiry would be futile, and specifically that contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the State Department of Social Services would be an idle act. View "In re I.F." on Justia Law

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Mother appealed an order terminating her parental rights under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. She argued that the Department of Children and Family Services and the court failed to comply with Code section 224.2 by inquiring whether her child is or might be an Indian child within the meaning of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Mother had “denied Native American ancestry for the family.”The court of appeal affirmed, finding any error harmless. The maternal grandmother is the only person Mother identified as a person who should have been asked about Indian ancestry; she had expressed her desire to adopt the child and to have the child placed with her. Under ICWA, when an Indian child is the subject of foster care or adoptive placement proceedings, “preference shall be given, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, to a placement with .. a member of the Indian child’s extended family,” 25 U.S.C. 1915(a), (b). Maternal grandmother, Mother’s counsel, and the child.’s counsel, each of whom requested placement with the maternal grandmother, would have had a strong incentive to bring to the court’s attention any facts that suggest that she is an Indian child. Their failure to do so implies that the maternal grandmother is unaware of such facts. View "In re S.S." on Justia Law

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Maria appealed the termination of her parental rights over her three children, who all have the same father, arguing that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) failed to interview her extended family members about their Indian ancestry. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C. 1901, gives Indian tribes concurrent jurisdiction over state court child custody proceedings that involve Indian children living off of a reservation; where possible, an Indian child should remain in the Indian community. California Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2 lists requirements to effectuate the Act’s policies. The court of appeal affirmed. The record does not support Maria’s argument that readily obtainable information would have shed meaningful light on whether the children are Indian children. There was a prior juvenile court finding that two of Maria’s children are not Indian children, the juvenile court asked Maria, the father, and paternal aunt about Indian ancestry, both parents eschewed Indian ancestry, and Maria was living with extended family members whom she could have asked about potential Indian ancestry. It was unlikely that any further inquiry of family members would have yielded information about Indian ancestry. View "In re Darian R." on Justia Law

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The juvenile court sustained a Welfare and Institutions Code section 3002 petition that alleged the mother (S.V.) had brandished a knife and pushed a female companion in the now-three-year-old child’s presence.A social worker inquired of S.V. about the child’s Indian ancestry; she did not give the social worker any reason to believe the child was or might be an Indian child. In preparing the detention report, a social worker interviewed the child’s maternal great-grandmother and maternal great-grandfather. It is not clear whether the social worker asked any relatives about the child’s Indian ancestry. S.V. filed a form stating that she did not have any Indian ancestry as far as she knew. If that changed, S.V. was to inform the court and the social worker. The juvenile court then inquired whether S.V. knew if alleged the father had Indian ancestry. She indicated that he did not have Indian ancestry. The court found it had no reason to know that the alleged father had Indian ancestry; his whereabouts were unknown.The court of appeal remanded. The first-step inquiry duty under the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1903(2), requires the Department to interview, among others, extended family members and others who had an interest in the child. View "In re H.V." on Justia Law

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The circuit court of Cook County adjudicated Z.L. and Z.L.’s siblings abused and neglected minors under the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-3) and made the minors wards of the court. The appellate court reversed the findings of abuse and neglect and remanded for compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, 25 U.S.C. 1912(a).The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the judgment of the circuit court, rejecting arguments that the state failed to prove Z.L. was a victim of abusive head trauma and that the court’s finding that Z.L. was physically abused was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The trial court’s conclusion that the mother was unable, at that time, to parent the children was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. The court remanded for a determination of whether there was compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. Although the record disclosed that the state sent notification to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on December 20, 2019, there is no evidence as to what has transpired in connection with this notice since that time. View "In re Z.L." on Justia Law

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The Department of Children and Family Services filed a petition (Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1) and (j)), alleging Deshawn’s and Clairessa’s history of substance abuse and current use of marijuana placed one-year-old Y.W., and one-month-old Y.G., at risk of serious physical harm. At the jurisdiction and disposition hearing, the juvenile court sustained the petition and declared the children. dependents of the court, removed them from parental custody, and ordered the parents to complete substance abuse and domestic violence programs and to have monitored visitation with the children. At a hearing to select a permanent plan, the juvenile court terminated their parental rights, finding that returning the children to the parents would be detrimental, that the parents had not maintained regular and consistent visitation and contact, and that the children were adoptable.Based on the parents’ allegation that the Department failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. 1901, the court of appeal conditionally affirm the orders terminating parental rights, with directions to ensure the Department complies with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA and related California law. Deshawn and Clairessa had each completed Judicial Council form ICWA-020, Parental Notification of Indian Status. Clairessa checked: “I have no Indian ancestry as far as I know.” Deshawn checked: “I am or may be a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe. View "In re Y.W." on Justia Law

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The juvenile court asserted emergency jurisdiction over seven-year-old A.T., whose mentally ill mother had taken him from Washington state to California in violation of Washington family court orders. The court detained A.T., placed him temporarily with his father in Washington, and initiated contact with the Washington family court to address which state had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In the meantime, the Wiyot Tribe intervened and, with A.T.’s mother asserted Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required the court to retain jurisdiction in California.The juvenile court determined ICWA was inapplicable and that the Washington family court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and dismissed the dependency action in favor of the family court proceedings in Washington. The court of appeal affirmed. The juvenile court properly applied the UCCJEA and dismissed the dependency action in favor of family court proceedings in Washington state after finding ICWA inapplicable because the child had been placed with his non-offending parent. ICWA and the related California statutory scheme expressly focus on the removal of Indian children from their homes and parents and placement in foster or adoptive homes. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law

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An Alaska Native teenage minor affiliated with the Native Village of Kotzebue (Tribe) was taken into custody by the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and placed at a residential treatment facility in Utah. She requested a placement review hearing after being injured by a facility staff member. At the time of the hearing, the minor’s mother wanted to regain custody. At the hearing the superior court had to make removal findings under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), as well as findings authorizing continued placement in a residential treatment facility under Alaska law. At the hearing, the minor’s Utah therapist testified as a mental health professional. The minor, as well as her parents and the Tribe, objected to the witness being qualified as an ICWA expert, but the superior court allowed it. The minor argued the superior court erred in determining that the witness was qualified as an expert for the purposes of ICWA. Because the superior court correctly determined that knowledge of the Indian child’s tribe was unnecessary in this situation when it relied on the expert’s testimony for its ICWA findings, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of April S." on Justia Law

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The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA; 25 U.S.C. 1901) gives Indian tribes the right to intervene in dependency proceedings regarding Indian children where foster care placement or termination of parental rights is being sought. The party initiating dependency proceedings must provide the tribe with notice. The Santa Clara County Department of Family and Services filed a juvenile dependency petition on behalf of nine-year-old L.D. At the initial hearing, Mother informed the court of Native Alaskan ancestry. At the dispositional hearing, the Department reported that it had sent notice, in November 2017, to the Native Village of Tanana, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Secretary of the Interior. Receiving no objections, the court found the notice satisfied ICWA. The court found that Mother had sexually abused L.D., who was removed from Mother’s custody with the expectation she would be placed with her maternal grandfather who had been caring for her informally for years. Following another hearing, the court issued a three-year restraining order protecting L.D. from mother. The court later found Mother in violation of the order. Mother filed an appeal from that order but her briefing did not address the restraining order, instead challenging the finding regarding ICWA compliance. The court of appeal dismissed the appeal as untimely but noted that the Department conceded that its notice was inadequate and that notification efforts are continuing. View "In re L.D." on Justia Law