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Mom loses bid to bar DCS child interviews after clean home check

August 21, 2013

A mother who challenged a court order granting the Department of Child Services’ petitions to interview her minor children lost her appeal Wednesday, despite her argument that a DCS inspection of her home and her screening found no evidence of drug abuse that had been alleged in a complaint.

“We conclude that Mother has failed to establish that the trial court erred in granting DCS’s Petitions to Interview Children or that she was denied due process,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the majority in In Re: The Matter of A.H., and S.H., Minor Children, V.H., Mother v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 10A01-1302-JM-93. “Accordingly, we affirm the ruling of the trial court.”

Mother V.H. said she wished to shield her children from false allegations that she suspected were made by the children’s father, who V.H. claimed had previously made false complaints against her.

DCS on Jan. 9 received a report that V.H. was using methamphetamine and heroin on a daily basis and selling drugs while her 4-, 6-, and 8-year-old children were at home. A DCS caseworker visited the home two days later and found no such evidence, and the mother passed a drug screen.

But V.H. declined to agree to allow the caseworker to interview the children about the drug allegations. She said subjecting the children to the interview was a violation of her 14th Amendment right to direct the upbringing of her children.
 
The trial court said the mother’s argument was compelling, but ultimately held, “In this case, [DCS] has a compelling interest, and has no other means to directly assess the conditions of these children without an interview.”

“While we recognize the fundamental right of a parent to raise her child without undue interference by the state, we cannot say that due process requires DCS to conduct an assessment or a portion of an assessment in order to obtain information which would provide a basis supporting the accuracy or reliability of the report, prior to interviewing the child or children,” Brown wrote in the majority opinion joined by Judge Cale Bradford.

“Indeed, an interview of the child or children as part of this initial evaluation may provide the information needed for DCS to classify a report as substantiated or unsubstantiated. We cannot say that legislation allowing DCS the ability to interview a child as part of the initial assessment and after obtaining a court order if necessary violates due process.”

In dissent, Judge Patricia Riley said she would consider the appeal moot since the trial court refused to stay the interviews pending appeal, and that the matter is of limited public import.

“In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I must conclude that the children have been interviewed and no effective relief can be given to Mother,” Riley wrote.

“I conclude that the case does not present an issue of great public interest and, therefore, I would dismiss the appeal as moot.”
 

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