DENVER – Colorado is violating protocol when taking custody of Native American children and has inundated tribes with paperwork and delayed placing children in permanent homes, state employees told lawmakers on Thursday.
Colorado is out of compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act, which requires courts make an effort to place Native American children in state custody with tribal or Native homes. House Bill 1232, co-sponsored by Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, offers minor fixes to Colorado laws for administering ICWA.
“This proposed law writes into Colorado law what federal law already requires,” said Judge Brett Woods, who presides over the Denver Juvenile Court.
Colorado is home to two federally recognized tribes, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, both in Southwest Colorado.
ICWA was passed in 1978 to address concerns that Native American children in government custody were removed from Native homes or placed in institutions. Colorado codified the act in 2002. But in 2016, the Bureau of Indian Affairs updated some of the act’s vague language, and Colorado has yet to recognize the update, said Jennifer Collins, assistant director of the human services section at the Denver City Attorney’s Office.
As a result, Colorado had been denying tribes’ requests to move a child’s case to a different jurisdiction if the case was at an advanced stage. The BIA now says a county or state court has no cause to deny a transfer if the tribe requests it.
The state has also been notifying tribes when a child in custody might be Native American, but had been sending notice even when there was little information about the child’s heritage, Collins said.
“This makes it more difficult to connect tribes with their children because they are receiving hundreds – thousands – of notices regarding children who are not Native,” Collins said.
HB 1232 limits notices sent to tribes.
The House’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved the fixes unanimously and sent the bill to the whole House.