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Court: CHINS records aren't available to media

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The circumstances that led to two siblings being deemed as children in need of services and the media attention their family received don't justify the trial court allowing the media access to the children's CHINS records, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Siblings K.B. and B.L. were removed from their parents' care in April after criminal charges were filed against the mother, Amanda Brooks Lay, and the father, Terry Lay, for the death of their child, K.L., and the battery and neglect of K.B. and B.L. Shortly after charges were filed, the Vanderburgh trial court granted the media access to K.B. and B.L.'s CHINS records, citing Indiana Code Section 32-39-2-10 and previous access granted to CHINS cases.

In In the Matter of: K.B. and B.L., Amanda Brooks Lay, mother v. Department of Child Services, No. 82A03-0806-JV-266, Amanda Lay challenged granting the media access to the records. Lay filed a motion to correct error. The Vanderburgh County Department of Child Services also shared its concerns of opening the records to the media but left the decision to the trial court's discretion. The court denied Lay's motion.

But the trial court should never have granted media access to records dealing with K.B. and B.L., because the investigatory report by the caseworker, which is governed by I.C. Section 31-33-18-2, doesn't allow for media representatives to access the report, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. The investigatory report is confidential and not to be made available to the public.

The trial court erred in releasing the records under I.C. Section 32-39-2-10. In its order, it said it was granting access to educate the public, address the community's interest in the welfare of the children, and give the public new insight into the workings of the trial court and DCS. While these are laudable goals, they are not reasons to release the records at the expense of K.B. and B.L, wrote Judge Barnes. These children are entitled to the same type of privacy that would be afforded to less high-profile CHINS cases, the judge continued.

Because there is not a specific ongoing threat to the safety or welfare of the community, the trial court abused its discretion in disclosing the CHINS records to the media.

The court also addressed the ambiguity in Indiana statute addressing under what circumstances the legislature intended any interested person to be able to access juvenile court records and invited the legislature to clarify the statute to ensure the confidentiality of legal records involving children.

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  1. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

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  4. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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