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People ex rel. D.B.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

November 2, 2017

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner-Appellee, In the Interest of D.B., a Child, and Concerning A.C., Respondent-Appellant.

         City and County of Denver Juvenile Court No. 15JV1149 Honorable Laurie A. Clarke, Judge

          Kristin M. Bronson, City Attorney, Laura Grzetic Eibsen, Assistant City Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellee

          Barry Meinster, Guardian Ad Litem

          Stephen D. Benson, L.L.C., Stephen D. Benson, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant

          OPINION

          BOORAS, JUDGE

         ¶ 1 In this proceeding governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), A.C. (mother) appeals the trial court's judgment terminating her parent-child legal relationship with D.B. (the child). We decide whether an expert must expressly opine as to whether the child is likely to suffer serious emotional or physical damage in the parent's care to satisfy a required ICWA statutory finding. Because we conclude that expert testimony does not need to recite the specific statutory language, we affirm the judgment.

         I. The Dependency and Neglect Case

         ¶ 2 In July 2015, the Department of Human Services of the City and County of Denver (Department) initiated a dependency and neglect proceeding and assumed temporary custody of the child after he tested positive for marijuana at birth. Because mother and M.B. (father) each reported that they were members of the Navajo Nation and believed the child was eligible for membership, the Department sent notice of the proceeding to the Navajo Nation.

         ¶ 3 Less than a month later, the court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected and adopted a treatment plan for mother. It also returned custody of the child to the parents.

         ¶ 4 However, in early September 2015, mother left the child with an acquaintance while she went to a casino. When she returned, she had to be taken to detox and could not remember with whom she had left the child. After the Department located the child, the court again placed the child in the Department's custody.

         ¶ 5 Three months later, the Navajo Nation verified that the child was eligible for enrollment and began participating in the case.

         ¶ 6 The Department subsequently moved to terminate the parent-child legal relationship between mother and the child. Following a hearing in October 2016, the trial court found, among other things, that continued custody of the child by one of the parents would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child due to the parents' extensive substance abuse, extensive domestic violence, lack of housing, and lack of income to meet the child's needs. Consequently, it terminated mother's parental rights.

         II. Termination of Parental Rights

         ¶ 7 Mother contends that the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights in the absence of testimony from a qualified expert witness that continued custody of the child by mother would likely result in serious emotional or physical ...


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