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COA: Social worker able to testify as expert witness

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A social worker who testified about a parenting assessment at a termination of parental rights hearing was properly allowed to testify as an expert witness, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, because the Indiana Rules of Evidence control. The judges affirmed the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her two young sons.

T.H. argued the trial court erred by qualifying social worker Jillorna Uceny as an expert witness who testified about mother’s Child Abuse Potential Inventory score. The results of the assessment showed T.H. had little interaction with her children and that the boys would be at risk in her care.

“Although Indiana Code section 25-23.6-4-6 prohibits a licensed clinical social worker from providing expert testimony, Indiana Evidence Rule 702 contains no social-worker exclusion. And because the Indiana Rules of Evidence control when they conflict with a statute, we hold that the social worker in this case was able to testify as an expert witness and was properly qualified as such,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in In the Matter of the Parent-Child Rel. of: B.H. & B.H., and T.H. v. The Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 52A02-1210-JT-849.

T.H. also challenged Uceny’s testimony about her CAPI results because she claimed there was no showing the test is based on reliable scientific methodology or technique. But under Rule 702, no specific test is required to establish reliability, Vaidik pointed out. Uceny testified about the history of the test and how it is accepted and widely used in the psychiatric community. Her testimony is sufficient to establish CAPI’s reliability.

The judges did find errors in the trial court admitting Miami County Department of Child Services caseworker Sara Stolina’s progress reports and allowing her to testify about T.H.’s compliance and participation in services. The progress reports shouldn’t have been allowed under the business record exception to the hearsay rule, but the error is harmless as the judgment terminating the mother’s parental rights doesn’t refer to the progress reports or their contents. It was also a harmless error to allow Stolina to testify about mother’s participation in services because the majority of her knowledge came from service providers’ statements to her, which would be inadmissible hearsay.

There is also clear and convincing evidence to support the determination that there is a reasonable probability that the conditions leading to the boys’ removal and continued placement outside of T.H.’s care will not be remedied, the appellate court held.  

 

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