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COA: Parental rights should be ended

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court's decision to continue the parental rights of two incarcerated parents, finding it to be in the child's best interest to sever the rights because the parents possibly won't be released from prison for two more years.

In In Re: The termination of the parent-child relationship of J.M.; Daniel G. Pappas, guardian ad litem v. A.S., mother, A.M., alleged father, and the Allen County Department of Child Services, No. 02A05-0807-JV-416, Daniel Pappas, as guardian ad litem for J.M., appealed the trial court's denial of the Allen County Office of Family and Children's petition to terminate A.S. and A.M.'s parental rights. Both had been incarcerated on drug charges since 2004, when J.M. was nearly 4 years old. J.M. had bounced around between family members and foster care and has remained in foster care since January 2006.

The trial court denied the petition to terminate parental rights, citing Rowlett v. Vanderburgh County Office of Family and Children, 841 N.E.2d 615 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), in which a father's parental rights weren't terminated because he would be getting out of prison in six weeks, had secured housing and a job, and the children would continue to live with their grandparents until he was able to care for them. The trial court in the instant case found the J.M.'s parents' release dates to be "soon" and that they had completed many required services under the dispositional decree while incarcerated.

But Rowlett is different from the instant case, wrote Judge Carr Darden. J.M.'s mother's earliest release date is April 2009 if she completes college courses; his father's current release date is January 2010. Neither has shown they have secured employment or housing once they are released, wrote the judge. As a result of the trial court's ruling, J.M. would have to remain in foster care for two more years, or possibly longer until his parents could secure a job and home.

The Allen County Office of Family and Children presented clear and convincing evidence A.S. and A.M. are unable to provide a safe and stable environment for J.M. and that it is in his best interest the parental rights are terminated, wrote Judge Darden. J.M. hasn't seen his parents since 2005 and only communicates with his mother through an occasional letter or phone call.

The appellate court remanded to the trial court with instructions to enter an order terminating A.S. and A.M.'s parental rights.

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