People in the Interest of K.C.
2020 COA 86. No. 19CA1682. Juvenile Court—Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act.
May 21, 2020
The Logan County Department of Human Services (the Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding twin children. Mother reported that she did not have Indian heritage, but the children’s father indicated he had “Chickasaw” heritage. The Department sent notice to the Chickasaw Nation (the Nation), which responded by indicating that father and the children were eligible for citizenship through the lineage of the paternal grandfather, who was an enrolled citizen, and that once enrolled, the children would qualify as “Indian Children.” The Nation’s letter also requested the children’s enrollment as Nation members, attached forms for enrollment and tribal citizenship, and requested assistance in completing these forms from the children’s parents or legal guardian. At all relevant times the Department was the children’s legal guardian.
The Department did not notify the juvenile court of the Nation’s reply and request for enrollment. It then moved to terminate the parents’ rights and asserted, as to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), that mother had no Indian heritage and the Nation had responded that the children were not Indian children under the ICWA until the father or the children enrolled. The Department attached the Nation’s response and the enrollment forms to the motion. Following a hearing, the juvenile court terminated mother’s parental rights and found that the ICWA was inapplicable.
On appeal, mother asserted that the judgment must be vacated and the case remanded because the Department failed to take steps to enroll the children as requested by the Nation. In a dependency and neglect proceeding, when a notified tribe communicates the desire to obtain citizenship for enrollment-eligible children, the department must, at the earliest time possible, deposit the response with the juvenile court. The court must then hold an enrollment hearing and determine whether it is in the children’s best interests to be enrolled in the requesting tribe. By failing to timely deposit with the juvenile court the Nation’s response indicating its desire to enroll the children, the Department did not comply with its notice responsibilities under the ICWA, and in turn, the juvenile court has had no opportunity to determine whether enrollment in the Nation is in the children’s best interests.
The judgment was vacated and the case was remanded with directions.