NATIVE LAW, FAMILY LAW
Mary Beth Barksdale
In Walker E. v. State, Department of Health & Social Services., Office of Children’s Services, 480 P.3d 598, 607 (Alaska 2021), the supreme court upheld the termination of parental rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and AS 47.10 where the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) had made sufficient active efforts to prevent breakup of the Indian family, (Id. at 607.), OCS presented sufficient evidence of the likelihood of future harm to the children, (Id. at 609–10.), and the “totality of the circumstances” indicated that termination was in the children’s best interests. (Id. at 611–12). OCS took Walker E.’s five children into custody after discovering that the children each suffered from some combination of staph infections, sores, drug exposure, poor hygiene, or lice, and the children also reported instances of domestic violence between their parents, which the parents admitted. (Id. at 602–03). From August of 2018 to the date of trial in February 2020, OCS communicated with Walker, referring him to substance abuse services, domestic violence classes, parenting classes, and drug-testing programs; he failed to meaningfully comply with any part of his reunification program, and only meaningfully participated in his visits with his children. (Id. at 603–05). At trial, OCS presented an expert with a master’s degree in social work and years of experience at OCS, including supervising the Anchorage unit of Alaska Native Family Services. (Id. at 609–10). The Supreme Court reviewed the record as a whole in concluding that OCS met its obligations, noting that while lapses in the effort had occurred, OCS’s overall commitment to overcoming communication barriers and offering services to aid Walker and his family demonstrated adequate effort to reunify the family. (Id. at 611). The Court found that OCS’s expert’s education and experience supported the inference that she was qualified as required by ICWA; her opinion, alongside independent evidence of domestic violence, substance abuse, and neglect, therefore provided adequate evidence. (Id. at 611–12). Lastly, the Supreme Court noted that the superior court had considered several of the statutory factors of “best interests,” concluding that there was no clear error in weighing Walker’s lack of effort, the likelihood of harm, and the history of harm more heavily than the children’s heritage or the death of their mother. (Id.). The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the termination of parental rights under the ICWA and AS 47.10 where OCS had made sufficient active efforts to prevent breakup of the Indian family, (Id. at 607.), OCS presented sufficient evidence of the likelihood of future harm to the children, (Id. at 609–10.), and the “totality of the circumstances” indicated that termination was in the children’s best interests. (Id. at 611–12).