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Termination rash in special needs CHINS case

December 11, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the termination of a mother's parental rights to her special needs son, finding the decision would create a "sobering message" to parents of children who need ongoing assistance.

In the case In Re: The Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of M.S.; H.S., mother, No. 09A04-0805-JV-276, 8-year-old M.S. had been deemed a child in need of services as a result of his personality disorder and severe behavioral difficulties. His mother, H.S., who has two younger children, asked the Department of Child Services for help in caring for M.S. The mother had to sometimes hold M.S. down to protect him from hurting the other children or himself, and in the process would be harmed by her son.

Despite H.S.'s participation in services designed to help her parent M.S., she continued to need help caring for her son. DCS filed a petition to terminate her parental rights; several witnesses for the department testified the termination was in the best interest of M.S. because his mother wouldn't be able to provide the care he needed, despite her best efforts.

The termination of parental rights was premature, wrote Chief Judge John Baker, because no one knows if and when M.S. becomes stabilized if he will be able to live in the home with H.S. and his brothers.

"But to say that Mother's parental rights must be terminated merely because her child has special needs and she needs help to manage his behavior would send a sobering message indeed to all of the parents in Indiana with children who need ongoing medical or psychological assistance," wrote the chief judge. "In effect, as aptly put by Mother's attorney during the termination hearing, taking this step 'creates a message that if you've got a child that is difficult and you do seek help for that child, your reward is the child is removed, never to return.'"

The courts, instead of taking the "radical action" of severing the parent-child bond prematurely, should work with DCS to focus on helping M.S. become stabilized and re-evaluate his best interests later if that occurs.

The Court of Appeals remanded for further proceedings.

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