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Court erred in ordering DCS to pay costs

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The Indiana Department of Child Services isn't responsible for the costs of a minor's secure detention because it never entered into a written agreement with the juvenile court to cover the costs, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In In Re the Matter of M.W., A Child Alleged to be a Delinquent Child; Indiana Department of Child Services v. Hendricks County, No. 32A01-0905-JV-259, the DCS contested the trial court order it had to pay for M.W.'s secure detention and weekly child support while she was incarcerated in the Department of Correction. M.W. was living with her foster parents at the time of her arrest on possession of a stolen vehicle and operating while never licensed. M.W.'s DCS case manager, Kyla Rogers, admitted to being responsible for the girl and recommended she be detained in the Department of Correction instead of returning home with her foster mother. The trial court ordered her committed and that costs would be paid by the Marion County Department of Child Services at the request of Rogers. At the hearing in which M.W. admitted to the charges, the trial court ordered costs assessed against her and weekly child support to be paid by DCS because it acted in loco parentis.

Under Indiana Code Section 31-40-1-2, which took effect Jan. 1, 2009, DCS isn't responsible for payment of any costs of secure detention except for as provided under Section 2.5. That section requires a written agreement between the director of the department and the judge of the juvenile court that ordered the placement.

Based on the statute, DCS isn't responsible for the costs because it didn't enter into a written agreement, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Hendricks County argues that Rogers invited the error during the hearing when she agreed to the trial court's inquiry as to whether she wanted M.W. placed in the DOC. The Court of Appeals rejected the argument because the exchange between Rogers and the trial court showed she believed M.W. should be placed in the correction facility until a more appropriate secure placement could be obtained. The record failed to show Rogers clearly intended for DCS to shoulder the costs of placement, wrote the judge. The Hendricks County director of probation even informed the trial court that DCS couldn't pay for her detention under the new law.

The trial court also erred in finding DCS acted in loco parentis. Citing In Re the Marriage of Snow v. England, 862 N.E.2d 664 667 (Ind. 2007), the appellate court reiterated that it would be difficult to envision burdening the DCS as an institution with a child support obligation. It that ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court wrote Indiana policy disfavors entering a support order against adults who are not natural parents and it doesn't make sense to require support from someone whose status is temporary in nature.

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