While it is relatively easy to embrace the notion that each family is unique and that each parent has individual strengths and weaknesses, it is quite another to cultivate practice habits that make it likely that each parent will be considered and engaged as an individual. Such a stance requires objectivity which can be an elusive commodity in the context of a practice where most professionals have heavy caseloads and limited time. Overburdened systems tend to engender formulaic responses, and we all risk seeing parents and children as more similar than they really are.

It is common for litigation to draw upon expert evidence to assist a judge to arrive at a balanced decision. Cultural expertise (CE), provides information on socio-cultural issues such as kinship, family, marriage, customs, language, religion, witchcraft and so on. This type of evidence is primarily the result of qualitative, ethnographic research. Cultural Confidence provides litigation support such as briefs and reports explaining cultural norms and practices to attorneys, their clients, and courts.

Cultural Experts

The idea for use of cultural experts came from an ICWA case in Alaska that came out in July 2022, STATE OF ALASKA, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES, Appellant, v. CISSY A. and BUTCH R. In that case, the court generally affirmed the requirement in ICWA cases to present a cultural expert prior to termination of an indigenous parent’s right. From the case, it appears that the job of a cultural expert is to testify about the prevailing social and cultural standards of the Indian child’s tribe and therefore provide cultural context to the allegations and any evidence presented. While this is an ICWA case, it demonstrates how every case should be presented in a cultural context and how use of a cultural expert outside and inside of the courtroom could ramp up the quality of child welfare services and decrease removals as the agency learned (over time) more about the culture of the people they were removing children from.