What is a Qualified Expert Witness?

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Qualified Expert Witness:

According to Chief Judge-Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribal Court, Director-Northern Plains Tribal Judicial Institute-University of North Dakota Law School*, three stages of ICWA contain a requirement of qualified expert testimony to support state court action – foster care placement, termination of parental rights and deviating from the foster care and adoptive placement preference due to the extraordinary needs of the child. 25 U.S.C. SS1912(e); 1912(f), BIA Guidelines, F. 3 at 67594. The failure to produced qualified expert witness testimony may vitiate any proceedings held in state court. See In re. K.H., 981 P.2d. 1190 (Mont. 1999); Doty-Jabbar v. Dallas County, 19 S.W.3d 870 (Tex. App. 5th Dist. 2000). The ICWA does not define, “Qualified Expert Witness.”

However, IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF H.M.O. , No. 97-262, MT 175, (1998), it is stated “the Guidelines for State Courts; Indian Child Custody Proceedings (the Guidelines)”, defines expert witnesses for ICWA purposes. Matter of M.E.M. (1981), 195 Mont. 329, 336, 635 P.2d 1313, 1318.

The Guidelines: D.4. Qualified Expert Witnesses

(a) Removal of an Indian child from his or her family must be based on competent testimony from one or more experts qualified to speak specifically to the issue of whether continued custody by the parents or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious physical or emotional damage to the child.

(b) Persons with the following characteristics are most likely to meet the requirements for a qualified expert witness for purposes of Indian child custody proceedings:

(i) A member of the Indian child’s tribe who is recognized by the tribal community as knowledgeable in tribal customs as they pertain to family organization and childbearing practices.

(ii) A lay expert witness having substantial experience in the delivery of child and family services to Indians, and extensive knowledge of prevailing social and cultural standards and childbearing practices within the Indian child’s tribe.

(iii) A professional person having substantial education and experience in the area of his or her specialty.

44 Fed.Reg. 67584, 67593 (1979).

Despite the third category, H.M.O goes on to say:

33…” courts have held that social workers must have qualifications beyond those of the normal social worker to be qualified as experts for the purposes of the ICWA. See, e.g., In re Elliott (Mich. Ct. App. 1996), 554 N.W.2d 32, 37 (citation omitted); Matter of N.L. (Okla. 1988), 754 P.2d 863, 868 (citations omitted). Those courts based their conclusions on the legislative history of the ICWA which requires “expertise beyond the normal social worker qualifications.” See In re Elliott, 554 N.W.2d at 37 (citation omitted); Matter of N.L., 754 P.2d at 868 (citations omitted); see also House Report for the Indian Child Welfare Act, H.R. 1386, 95 Cong., 2d Sess. 22, reprinted in 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 7530, 7545. Based on these cases and legislative history, we hold that a social worker must possess expertise beyond that of the normal social worker to satisfy the qualified expert witness requirement of 25 U.S.C. § 1912(f).

34 As discussed above, Jackman’s report contains no substantive information regarding her qualifications and experience other than that she was a social worker employed by the Department. On the basis of the record before us, we hold that the District Court abused its discretion in concluding that Jackman was a qualified expert witness for ICWA purposes.

QUESTIONS:

If a child is 1/2 Hispanic and has been raised in a Hispanic community, speaking Spanish, does the prevailing social and cultural standards of the tribal community still take precedence in the placement of that child?

What if the child is 9/10 tribal, but his parents simply chose to raise him in an alternate community with alternate standards and customs?

What is the “tribal community?” If the child lives in an inner city tribal Community, would that then be the child’s tribal community? Does an inner city tribal community have the same customs, cultural standards and child rearing practices as a closed reservation does?

Wouldn’t a witness be more qualified and expert in the well being of the child if the witness understood the community in which the child has been raised and the community within which the family exists, rather than the community in which the tribe exists?

Who is the Expert Witness testifying for?
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