Colorado COA Decides ICWA Placement Preferences Case

Here is the opinion in People ex rel. A.R.

The court’s syllabus:

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.

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher, ICWA, Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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