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Name: In re Vincent M.
Case #: H030258
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 05/17/2007

The juvenile court erred when it used the “existing Indian family doctrine” to avoid the ICWA and terminate parental rights. The minor was removed from mother, who was in a residential substance abuse treatment program, and father, who was in prison. Mother immediately notified the Department of her Indian heritage and provided her tribal enrollment number. Mother was denied reunification services due to prior failures to reunify with seven other children. Following an appeal from the dispositional orders, the judgment was reversed and remanded for lack of compliance with ICWA notice requirements. Prior to the 366.26 hearing, the minor was certified as a member of the Chippewa tribe. The tribe sought transfer of jurisdiction to its tribal court, and sought to intervene. The juvenile court, utilizing the “existing Indian family doctrine” found that ICWA did not apply. It then terminated parental rights and selected a permanent plan of adoption. The parents appealed, contending that the juvenile court erred in utilizing the existing Indian family doctrine to support its conclusion that ICWA did not apply. The appellate court agreed, and again reversed and remanded. The court rejected the holding in In re Bridget R. (1996) 41 Cal.App 4th 1483, finding that there is no federal right to a stable placement. There is no equal protection violation in the application of ICWA to Indian children, even where those children are not part of an existing Indian family. The application of ICWA does not necessarily mean that a child will be moved from his or her placement, only that the tribe will have an opportunity to have input into the juvenile court’s decision.