NATIVE LAW, FAMILY LAW
Mary Beth Barksdale
In Clark J. v. State, Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, 483 P.3d 896 (Alaska 2021), the supreme court reversed the Superior Court’s termination of parental rights, finding clear error where the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had failed to make active efforts to reunite Indian children with their father. (Id. at 903–04). OCS took custody of three children in 2016 and for the following two years was unable to contact Clark J., the children’s father. (Id. at 898). During that time, OCS focused its efforts primarily on the children’s mother, but continued to attempt to contact Clark J. through his tribe, through friends and family, and by sending him a letter in jail. (Id. at 902). In early 2018, OCS successfully reached Clark through Facebook, though after attending one permanency hearing, Clark was incarcerated and contact again fell through; Clark initiated contact with OCS in 2019. (Id. at 898–99). For the two years following, an OCS caseworker worked with Clark, but failed to create a family contact plan, to personally coordinate phone calls with his children, or to set up drug testing or parenting classes. (Id. at 900). The supreme court reversed the superior court’s findings that OCS’s efforts in the first two years of the case were sufficient to satisfy the active efforts requirement, finding instead that the minimal efforts to assist Clark in maintaining contact with his children or to coordinate drug testing and parental services represented an extreme failure to meet its obligation during half of the time in question. (Id. at 904). The supreme court further clarified that it was an error for the superior court to rely upon the children’s mother’s stipulation to OCS’s adequate efforts as evidence of OCS’s efforts towards Clark where Clark had not participated in the stipulations. (Id. at 901–02). Reversing the decision of the superior court, the supreme court found clear error in terminating parental rights where OCS had failed to make active efforts to reunite Indian children with their father. (Id. at 903–04).