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Statute must be followed in all CHINS cases

November 18, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed the involuntary termination of parental rights of a mother and father, but cautioned the Marion County Department of Child Services to continue to follow the statutory procedures in child in need of services cases and termination cases even if a court determines reunification efforts aren't required.

In In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of C.T.; D.B., father, and K.T., mother v. Marion County Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, No. 49A02-0803-JV-231, Kristie Thompson and Dennis Brown appealed the juvenile court's termination of their respective parental rights over their infant son, C.T. The boy had been deemed a CHINS after he tested positive for cocaine at birth.

In June 2007, the Marion County Department of Child Services requested it no longer be required to make reasonable efforts to reunify Thompson with C.T. and filed a petition to terminate both parents' rights in September 2007. Brown wasn't present at the hearing because he was incarcerated; his motion for a continuance until he was released from prison was denied.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the termination of parental rights, finding clear and convincing evidence there is a reasonable probability the conditions resulting in C.T.'s placement out of his parents' care wouldn't be remedied. Thompson testified she didn't use drugs despite the fact her other children had tested positive for drugs at birth, and she failed to receive treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Brown was in and out of prison during the CHINS proceedings for C.T. and failed to communicate with his attorney or with a family case manager regarding the case.

The appellate court also found Brown wasn't denied due process when the court denied his motion for continuance, finding he was represented by counsel during the proceedings and his lack of communication with his attorney invited the alleged error of which he now complains, wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

The Court of Appeals also addressed a serious concern raised by Thompson in her appeal - MCDCS failed to perform basic case management tasks once the juvenile court determined reasonable efforts to reunify her with C.T. weren't required.

Two of Thompson's caseworkers testified they hadn't visited Thompson at her home or inquired about her employment or services she completed after being released from prison. A parent's constitutionally protected right to raise his or her children doesn't go away once a court determines a department of child services isn't required to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family, wrote the judge.

The county departments of child services play an integral part in ensuring procedural safeguards are followed so parents receive a full and fair hearing before a termination may occur, and the comments and actions of Thompson's caseworkers aren't condoned by the appellate court or sanctioned by statute, wrote Judge Barnes.

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