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South Dakota court upholds end of father's parental rights

July 11, 2012
By CHET BROKAW Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D.—The South Dakota Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court's decision to end a man's parental rights
The state Department of Social Services made an active effort, as required under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, to help the child's father receive training so the girl could be placed in his California home, the high court said in a unanimous ruling.

"Those efforts were unsuccessful in any progress toward that goal," the Supreme Court said in a ruling that identified the girl and her parents only by their initials.

The girl and her mother were members of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe of Montana living in South Dakota when the 1-year-old child was removed from her mother's home and placed in foster care in June 2009 because the mother was intoxicated. Her father, who had not previously known about the child, sought to have his daughter placed in his home.

California officials determined he would have to complete parenting and alcohol education classes. California could not conduct a later study of the man's home because his other children had been removed due to allegations his wife had physically abused them, according to court documents.

had not completed required treatment programs. The girl's mother also lost her rights to the child but did not appeal that ruling.

Circuit Judge Jeff W. Davis last year terminated the man's parental rights to the girl, ruling that it was in the child's best interests and the man

Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to telephone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Some American Indian families have argued that South Dakota does not do enough to comply with federal laws dealing with removing Indian children from their families, but the Supreme Court said state officials complied with those laws.

In his appeal, the man argued that South Dakota child welfare officials had not complied with federal law requiring an active effort to prevent the breakup of an American Indian family.

The Supreme Court for the first time ruled Thursday that the federal law's requirement of an active effort to keep an American Indian family together imposes a higher standard than the reasonable effort required in state law for non-Indian families.

The high court said the South Dakota Department of Social Services made both an active and reasonable effort to help the man gain custody of his child by paying for an alcohol treatment program, providing him with a list of free parenting classes and giving him stamped envelopes so he could send mail to his daughter.

"While these efforts cannot be considered herculean, they are active as opposed to passive," Justice Glen A. Severson wrote for the Supreme Court.

The court also said those efforts were unsuccessful because the man had not completed all the required treatment programs and California could not approve placement of the girl in his home while his other children had been removed.

The girl "should not be required to wait for father to develop parenting skills that may never develop," Severson wrote.

Court documents indicate the girl's foster parents want to adopt her and the Fort Peck tribe has urged that she be adopted by the foster parents, the Supreme Court said. to his daughter in a ruling that defines the extent of efforts the state must make to prevent the breakup of an American Indian.



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