People in the Interest of My.K.M.
2022 CO 35. No. 21SC245. Indian Child Welfare Act—Active Efforts—Statutory Interpretation.
June 27, 2022
In this termination of parental rights case, the Supreme Court considered what constitutes “active efforts” required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs to assist a parent in completing a court-ordered treatment plan, and whether the Denver Department of Human Services (DHS) met that requirement given the services it afforded to mother in this case.
The Court concluded that ICWA’ s “active efforts” is a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies like DHS with Native American families compared to the traditional “reasonable efforts” standard. An agency’s active efforts must be “affirmative, active, thorough, and timely,” as well as “tailored to the facts and circumstances of the case,” per 25 CFR § 23.2, and the agency retains discretion to prioritize certain services and resources to address a parent’s and family’s most urgent needs to assist parents with completing the court-ordered treatment plan. Courts should analyze an agency’s active efforts by considering the totality of the circumstances and accounting for all services and resources provided to a parent to ensure the completion of the entire treatment plan. Here, the record supports the juvenile court’s determination that DHS engaged in active efforts to provide mother with services and programs to attempt to rehabilitate her and reunite the family, but that those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.
Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment with respect to mother’s parental rights and remanded the case for the Court of Appeals to address mother’s remaining appellate contentions.