Editor's Message: Native American Children Involved in the Dependency Court

Judge Dean LewisJ. Dean Lewis, Judge (retired)
Former Member, National CASA Association Board of Directors
Past President, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges


The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) established minimum federal standards for state dependency courts handling cases involving Indian children. This issue of The Judges' Page is dedicated to ensuring that attorneys, judges, child advocates, CASA volunteers and social workers understand the law, legislative intent, best practice and the consequences of failure to comply with requirements of ICWA. The National CASA Association and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges are committed to sharing their extensive experience, training and resources in handling child welfare cases involving Native American children by sponsoring this issue.

When a child welfare case is filed, the court must make a preliminary determination: Is the child a member of an Indian tribe or the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe? The answer to this question is critical in determining jurisdiction. The National Council published the Native American Resource Directory for Juvenile and Family Court Judges (409 KB PDF) and Indian Child Welfare Checklists (995 KB PDF) to assist courts in complying with ICWA.

If the answer is "yes," timely written notice to the child's tribe is required. Donna Goldsmith addresses the ICWA legal requirements and consequences of noncompliance. If the answer is "yes," there are child placement priorities established in ICWAJudge Maurice Portley of the Arizona Court of Appeals explains the statutorily required "preferred placement" provisions of ICWA.

If the answer is "yes" and the state court appropriately exercises jurisdiction, ICWA imposes a higher burden of proof in cases involving Native American children. Donna Goldsmith addresses the distinction between “reasonable efforts” and “active efforts” required in ICWA cases.

Judge Stephen Rubin (ret.) explains the enhanced ICWA burden of proof in termination of parental rights cases.

Judge William A. Thorne Jr. of the Utah Court of Appeals, explains national policy recognizing the special political status of Indian tribes and the legislative intent to preserve the unique values of Indian culture.

Judge Korey Wahwassuck, Associate Judge of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Court, shares an innovative approach utilizing problem-solving courts.

Referee Sherri Sobel of the Los Angeles Superior Court explains the unique role of an urban court in dealing with the legal requirements of ICWA and recognizing the importance of the Native American heritage of court-involved families.

Sally Erny, chief program officer at the National CASA Association, gives an overview of the organization's commitment to CASA program funding and technical assistance.

Gloria O'Neill, a member of the board of trustees of National CASA and CEO and President of Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska, reports on current efforts to improve disproportionality and disparity in child protective custody for Alaska Native children.

Lisette Austin contributes “Serving Native American Children in Foster Care” sharing tips for advocates and resources for advocating for Native children in foster care (reprinted from Winter 2009 Connection magazine).

Nancy Miller, Director of the Permanency Planning for Children Department of NCJFCJ explains the partnership between NCJFCJ and Casey Family Programs to develop a Tribal Leadership Group at NCJFCJ and ongoing NCJFCJ outreach efforts to reduce disproportionality and disparate treatment.

Gina Jackson, Permanency Planning for Children Department (PPCD) Model Court Liaison, shares the experiences of the Gila River Indian Community as a new PPCD model court.

Paula Campbell of the Permanency Planning for Children Department of NCJFCJ offers readers additional online resources and publications and writes about recent events at the NICWA conference.

The National CASA Association named Hon. Robert Brutinel the 2010 Judge of the Year at its national conference in Atlanta, GA, this spring.

Our thanks go to Donna Goldsmith Esq., who took the lead on securing articles and offered her expertise and oversight in editing this issue of The Judges' Page.

Editor's Note:  For additional articles on ICWA and its impact on dependency court cases, see the April 2004 issue of The Judges' Page.

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