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Indian Child Welfare Act Policies and Publications with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

Victoria Sweet, JD

 

Victoria Sweet, JD


The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) has long provided training opportunities, materials, and support for judges on Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) implementation. In 2013, the NCJFCJ Board of Directors passed a resolution in support of the full implementation of ICWA and encouraged all state courts to make this a priority.1 The resolution recognized and renewed a commitment to support the provisions within ICWA that require inquiry, notice, active efforts, high standards of proof based on the testimony of a qualified expert witness before removal or termination, placement preferences, and provisions for exclusive tribal jurisdiction and intervention. Many provisions within the revised guidelines are in line with both this 2013 ICWA Resolution and best practices as recommended in NCJFCJ trainings and resource materials.

In addition, in 2011, the NCJFCJ Board of Directors passed a resolution in support of tribal courts.2 In the resolution the Board stated “the NCJFCJ, in serving children and families, recognizes that tribal and state courts are equal and parallel justice systems” and later stated that the Board of Trustees “is, and shall be, committed to engaging the tribal courts as full partner... and in meeting the needs of all children and families served by the state and tribal courts, complying with the letter and the spirit of all laws effecting Native children and families including, but not limited to, the Indian Child Welfare
Act...”

The NCJFCJ's policies as laid out in these two resolutions prioritize the full implementation of ICWA and support for tribal courts by complying with the letter and spirit of all laws affecting Native children and families. The National Council also sees ICWA implementation as one way to reduce the highly disproportionate rates of American Indian and Alaska Native children in out of home placement. American Indian and Alaska Native children are the only group in the United States whose disproportionality rates for out of home placement are progressively worsening instead of improving. According to 2013 data, across the United States, American Indian and Alaska Native children are overrepresented in foster care at a rate of 2.5 times their rate in the general population.3

Throughout the year, the National Council hosts training and networking opportunities for state and tribal court judges. A Tribal Courts Caucus will be included as part of this year’s 78th Annual Conference.4 In addition, resources such as Improving Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act: A Guide for Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Measuring Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act: An Assessment Toolkit can help judges and court systems understand the importance of and recommended steps to applying ICWA.5 They include practice tips, best practice recommendations, and stories from judges who have used the training materials and opportunities to improve their understanding of, and ability to, implement ICWA. Tribal Engagement Strategies: Establishing and Sustaining Connections provides tips on how to successfully build collaborative relationships between state courts and tribal courts.6 The publication shares ways to both formally and informally build crucial relationship in ICWA cases. The most regularly requested publication is Indian Child Welfare Act Checklists for Juvenile and Family Court Judges.7 The checklists are put into a convenient benchcard format, and provide reminders of the required findings that a judge must make in each hearing as well as other important details about ICWA statutory requirements. In line with the National Council’s policies, a statement was recently released encouraging state court judges to apply the recently revised Bureau of Indian Affairs ICWA Guidelines.8 The revisions clear up much of the ambiguity in the previous guidelines, and should provide additional certainty for judges while still allowing for sufficient discretion when making tough decisions in these cases. The National Council invites all child welfare professionals to take advantage of all of the training opportunities, materials, and staff expertise available through our organization.

RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF TRIBAL COURTS

Adopted by the NCJFCJ Board of Trustees during their Annual Meeting, July 13, 2013, Seattle, Washington.


Footnotes:
1 NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES, RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF FULL IMPLEMENTATION OF THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT(2013).

2NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES, RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF TRIBAL COURTS(2011)

3 NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES, DISPROPORTIONALITY RATES FOR CHILDREN OF COLOR IN FOSTER CARE (2013)

4 For more information on the conference, see http://www.ncjfcj.org/78th-annual-conference

5 NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES,IMPROVING COMPLIANCE WITH THE INDIAN CHILDWELFARE ACT: A GUIDE FOR JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES (2013) NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES, MEASURING COMPLIANCE WITH THE INDIAN CHILDWELFARE ACT: AN ASSESSMENT TOOLKIT (2014)

6 NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES, TRIBAL ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES: ESTABLISHING AND SUSTAINING CONNECTIONS (2013)

7 NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES,INDIAN CHILDWELFARE ACT CHECKLISTS FOR JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES (2003)

8 NCJFJ Encourages Judges to Apply Revised BIA ICWA Guidelines, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JUDGES (May 11, 2015)


About the Author
Victoria Sweet
(Anishinaabe) joined the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as a program attorney in June 2014 after working as the legal fellow at the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law. She is a member of the Minnesota State Bar. Sweet received her JD from Michigan State University with a certificate in Indigenous Law and Policy, attended the Pre-Law Summer Institute at the American Indian Law Center, and earned her MAEd and BA from George Wythe University. She spent a summer working at the White Earth Tribal Court, a summer working at the Indian Law Resource Center, and was both a research assistant and teaching assistant for Professors Matthew Fletcher and Wenona Singel. In addition, she participated in an ICWA monitoring program in Michigan state courts. Prior to starting her law career, Sweet worked as a high school teacher and an educational lecturer, speaking at workshops and seminars across the United States and Canada. She has published articles on human trafficking and the human security of Indigenous women, has volunteered in international community development organizations, run workshops and conferences for Native youth, and served on the Board of Directors for the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake.

 

 

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