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CHINS finding establishes only status of child

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A finding that a child is in need of services only establishes the status of the child and means the child is a CHINS even if one parent isn't involved in the reasons for the determination, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

The issue as to whether a child can be deemed a CHINS with respect to one parent, but not the other arose in the case In the matter of N.E., a child in need of services; N.L. (father) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, No. 49S02-0906-JV-270. N.E.'s father, N.L., appealed the finding that N.E. was a child in need of services and the juvenile court's decision to not place his daughter with him. N.E.'s mother has four children with four different fathers and the children were removed from her home after the Department of Child Services alleged they were CHINS because of domestic violence in the home.

The court then established N.L.'s paternity and placed N.E. in his custody, but removed N.E. to foster care a week later due to concerns about her paternal grandfather's drug problems. N.L. lived with his parents.

At a fact-finding hearing, a guardian ad litem stated N.E. had lived with her father for an extensive period of time and there was no doubt she was appropriately cared for there. The juvenile court found the children to be wards of the state, but made no specific findings as to N.L. or reasons for not placing N.E. with him.

The Indiana Court of Appeals was split in its reversal, ruling the state hadn't proved that N.E. was a CHINS with regard to her father. Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, arguing a CHINS determination regards only the status of the child.

The justices agreed with Judge Vaidik that a CHINS determination establishes the status of a child alone. The conduct of one parent can be enough for a child to be adjudicated a CHINS, and to adjudicate the culpability on the part of each parent would be at a variance with the purposes of a CHINS inquiry, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

"Said differently, the purpose of a CHINS adjudication is to protect children, not punish parents," he wrote.

The juvenile court properly adjudicated N.E. as a CHINS because the mother failed to protect the children against the domestic violence in the home. In these circumstances, the CHINS petition didn't have to make any allegations with respect to N.L., the justice wrote.

The justices also agreed with the Court of the Appeals that the trial court's reasons for finding N.E. to be a ward of the state failed to take into account the time she spent in her father's care or why she shouldn't have been placed with him.

The omission of these facts are important because when a juvenile court makes a decision during a CHINS hearing as to whether a child will be a ward of the state or orders services, this could potentially interfere with the parents' rights in bringing up their children, wrote Justice Sullivan. Also, statute requires a juvenile court to enter a decree that is least restrictive and consider placing a child with a blood relative before other out-of-home placements, he continued.

The justices vacated that part of the juvenile court's judgment pertaining to N.E. because it may have interfered with N.L.'s rights to raise his daughter, and remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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