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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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