The trial court failed to ensure that the Department adequately investigated mother’s claim of Indian ancestry. Mother’s four children were removed from her care. At the detention hearing, mother submitted an ICWA-020 form which indicated that she might have Indian ancestry. Mother provided the name and birth date of her great-grandfather, who she believed had Indian heritage, but she did not know which tribe. The court ordered the Department to send notice to the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Cherokee Nation, and to any specific tribe that might be identified. The Department did not send any of the ordered notices. While the jurisdiction/disposition report stated that ICWA does or may apply, the interim review reports stated that ICWA did not apply, though no explanation was provided for this conclusion. The court did not make any further ICWA findings. The appellate court reversed and remanded to conduct an ICWA inquiry. “An adequate investigation of a family member’s belief a child may have Indian ancestry is essential to ensuring a tribe entitled to ICWA notice will receive it.” (See In re Elizabeth M. (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 768, 787.) Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2, subdivision (e), which took effect in January 2020 when the section 366.26 hearing took place in these proceedings, imposes a duty of further inquiry “if the court, social worker, or probation officer has reason to believe that an Indian child is involved in the proceeding.” The duty of further inquiry requires interviewing extended family members, contacting the BIA, the tribe, or any other person that may reasonably be expected to have information regarding the child’s eligibility. (§ 224.2 (e)(1)-(3).) The preliminary responses from mother provided a reason to believe that Indian children might be involved in the proceedings and triggered a duty of the Department to make further inquiry. The court failed to ensure that the Department complied with its duty of further inquiry and on remand the juvenile court must promptly direct the Department to make a meaningful and thorough inquiry regarding the minors’ possible Indian ancestry.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B303987.PDF