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Appeals court reverses DCS judgment of CHINS

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A 16-year-old Indianapolis girl was improperly adjudicated a child in need of services, and her mother should not have been subject to Department of Child Services oversight, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The court reversed a Marion Superior Court order designating V.H. a child in need of services in In the Matter of V.H.; J.H. v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, No.49A02-1110-JC-947. The case was remanded to the juvenile court with instructions to vacate the participation order issued for V.H.’s mother, J.H.

Judge John G. Baker wrote in a unanimous opinion that V.H., who outweighed her mother by about 30 pounds, had been the aggressor in at least two physical altercations with her mother, one of which involved DCS after police responded to the mother’s 911 call when the child became physical.

There was no evidence of abuse or neglect, and J.H. had been proactive in seeking psychological and behavioral treatment because DCS failed to do so in a timely manner after the agency became involved.

“Under these facts and circumstances, it is apparent that Mother, who is a working single parent, was addressing V.H.’s behavioral issues. This is something for which we should applaud parents rather than condemn them through coercive action,” Baker wrote in reversing the CHINS adjudication.

The mother obtained a psychological evaluation of her daughter because DCS could not provide one for three to six months, despite the mother’s repeated requests. “In light of this evidence, we cannot agree that V.H. needs care, treatment, or rehabilitation that she is not receiving and is unlikely to be provided or accepted without the coercive intervention of the court,” Baker wrote

The court also ruled that because of procedural errors in juvenile hearings, the participation order would have been vacated even if the judges had upheld the CHINS adjudication. The participation order bound the mother to maintain regular contact with the case manager, including home visits, participation and successful completion of home-based counseling and other requirements, including reimbursing DCS $25 a week.

Baker’s opinion also reiterated a prior appeal of a DCS case that warned the agency against using boilerplate language in CHINS cases, such as spelling out “standard services” in participation orders.

“In A.C. v. Marion County Department of Child Services, 905 N.E.2d 456, 464-65 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), this court vacated portions of a participation decree because it utilized boilerplate language requiring the mother to undergo services where there was no evidence in the record to support the need for those services. We cautioned that: The use of boilerplate language can make the citizenry cynical about the requirements necessary to achieve the goals of a CHINS adjudication.

“Forcing unnecessary requirements upon parents whose children have been adjudicated as CHINS could set them up for failure with the end result being not only a failure to achieve the goal of reunification, but potentially, the termination of parental rights. … In short, Mother was ordered to complete requirements and accept services that were not supported by the record because the DCS recommended only ‘standard services.’ … We discourage the juvenile courts from using such boilerplate requirements.”


 

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