In re M.F.

225 P.3d 1177 (2010)

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In re M.F.

Kansas Supreme Court
225 P.3d 1177 (2010)

Facts

S.F. (defendant) gave birth to M.F., an Indian child, and abandoned her at the hospital. M.F. had grave medical needs, but S.F. did not respond to the hospital’s attempts to contact her regarding the special care M.F. required, nor did S.F. visit M.F. during her extended stay in the hospital. The state (plaintiff) filed a child-in-need-of-care (CINC) petition, also known as a dependency petition, which the district court heard at an initial hearing. The state asked for and was granted temporary custody of M.F. Sections 1912(e) and (f) of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) concerned proceedings for foster care and termination of parental rights (TPR) and required the state to provide the testimony of a qualified expert witness (QEW) that a parent’s continued custody was likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child. At the CINC hearing, the state presented the testimony of only one witness, Lindsay Courtney, who had been a social worker for three months before she was assigned to M.F.’s case. Courtney had no other educational or professional qualifications or knowledge of Indian tribal customs and childcare. Courtney testified that M.F. would be at risk in S.F.’s custody because S.F. was uninformed about M.F.’s needs. The district court found that Courtney testified as an expert; the court further found that M.F. was endangered in S.F.’s custody and other placement was immediately necessary. At the permanency hearing, the court found that reunification was impossible. The state moved for TPR. At a pretrial hearing, S.F.’s attorney objected that the state did not meet its § 1912(e) burden. At the TPR hearing, counsel for S.F. objected that the state had not met its burdens under §§ 1912(e) or (f). The state presented the testimony of a second social worker, Lindsay Howes, who had the same professional experience and education as Courtney. Howes testified that S.F. could not meet M.F.’s medical needs. The court terminated the parental rights of S.F., and S.F. appealed, arguing that the state did not meet its §§ 1912(e) and (f) burdens. The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling, finding that Courtney and Howes were not QEWs. The state appealed, arguing that the court of appeals improperly held that §§ 1912(e) and (f) required a QEW to be aware of tribal customs and Indian child welfare.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Luckert, J.)

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