Petition for Review from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District, Bethel, Charles W. Ray, Jr., Judge. Superior Court No. 4BE-13-00013 CN.
David T. Jones, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Petitioner State of Alaska.
Rachel Cella, Assistant Public Defender, Anchorage, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for Respondent E.A.
William T. Montgomery, Assistant Public Advocate, Bethel, and Richard Allen, Public Advocate, Anchorage, for Respondent D.A.
Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.
The superior court adjudicated Candace  a child in need of aid because she had been sexually abused by her adoptive brother. The superior court nonetheless ordered that Candace be returned to her parents' home, holding that the Department of Health and Social Services, Office of Children's Services (OCS), had failed to present " qualified expert testimony" as required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to support a finding that she would likely suffer serious physical or emotional harm in her parents' custody. We conclude that the superior court's failure to accept OCS's proposed expert witnesses as qualified was error, and we therefore vacate the order placing Candace with her parents.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
A. Candace's History
Candace is a 17-year-old girl from a small village in southwestern Alaska. She entered the foster care system when she was two years old and was adopted by her great-aunt and great-uncle -- Emma and Douglas -- when she was 11.
In the fall of 2012, Candace's teacher noticed she was withdrawn, had stopped talking to her friends, and seemed depressed. Candace spent about two weeks sleeping on friends' couches, including one night when she stayed with her teacher. One day Douglas came to school and told Candace to come home or he would call the village public safety officer to bring her home. Candace locked herself in the girls' bathroom, where she slammed her head against the floor and walls. She texted her teacher and said that she couldn't go back home because " bad things [were] happening." The teacher reported this to the school principal and OCS. A state trooper and an OCS worker spoke with Candace, who reported that she had been sexually abused by her adoptive brother. A few days later Douglas and Emma agreed to send Candace to a boarding school in Bethel.
Candace repeated her reports of abuse while at boarding school, telling the school principal that her home " was a bad place" and she did not want to live there. She said that Douglas and Emma hid the " bad things" she reported. The " dorm parent" at the boarding school gave Candace a journal, in which Candace wrote other details about abuse at home. When the school principal contacted OCS about what Candace described, Candace again locked herself in the bathroom, destroyed the journal, and threatened to commit suicide; the principal had to call the police to remove her from the ...