C.J. v. Department of Health & Social Services

In C.J. v. Department of Health & Social Services. (Alaska 2001) 18 P.3d 1214, the Indian expert did not interview either the parent or the child. In that case, the children were removed from the mother in Alaska; the father was a noncustodial, nonoffending parent who lived in Florida. An evaluation of the father's residence under the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) initially recommended against placement with the father because his job involved extensive travel. However, the father quit his job in order to take care of his children and a more favorable home study resulted, but Florida rejected the ICPC placement. (18 P.3d at p. 1216.) Parental rights were terminated subsequently on the ground of abandonment, due to the father's lack of communication with the children. (Id. at p. 1217.) On appeal, the father contended there was insufficient evidence to support the ICWA detriment finding. Although the Alaska Supreme Court acknowledged that the father had failed to maintain contact with his children, he was not required to prove he was a fit parent. (C.J. v. Department of Health & Social Services, supra, 18 P.3d at pp. 1217-1218.) The court went on to note that the social services agency had not met the ICWA detriment standard (18 P.3d at p. 1218), and the Indian expert's opinion, which was based solely on information provided by the social worker, did not establish the standard, either. However, the court did not hold that Indian experts are required to interview the parents. At page 1218, the court stated: "We do not hold that a meeting between the expert and the parties to the termination proceeding is required in every case. But the expert opinion should be based on the particular facts and issues of the case to a greater extent than occurred here, in order to support a finding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that serious physical or emotional harm will result." (Ibid.)