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Qualified Expert Witness

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires the testimony of a Qualified Expert Witness to insure that the involuntary placement of an Indian child into foster care or the termination of the parent-child legal relationship does not conflict with the specific cultural values of the child’s tribe. ICWA requires that the action proposed by the State be supported by the testimony of a Qualified Expert Witness.

Individuals with the following characteristics are most likely to meet the requirements to become a Qualified Expert Witness for purposes of Indian child custody proceedings in state court:

  • A member of the Child’s Indian tribe who is recognized by the tribal community as knowledgeable of tribal customs pertaining to family organization and child rearing practices.
  • A lay expert having substantial experience in the delivery of child and family services to Indians, and extensive knowledge of prevailing social, cultural and child rearing practices of the child’s tribe.
  • A professional person who has substantial education and experience in providing services to children and families and who possesses significant knowledge of and experience with Indian culture, family structure, and child-rearing practices in general.

Under ICWA guidelines, the Qualified Expert Witness must testify on two basic questions to determine whether or not damage to the child is likely to occur. Taking into account the cultural norms and childrearing practices of the child’s tribe and community:

  • Is the conduct of the parents likely to result in serious physical or emotional harm to the child? Would continued parental custody likely subject a child to serious physical or emotional endangerment?
  • If such conduct will likely cause harm, can the parents modify their conduct to insure the child’s physical and emotional safety?
Page last updated: 12/23/2008