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Courts offer CHINS facilitations

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Because mediations have become commonplace in family law cases, it may come as no surprise that a number of Indiana counties have been implementing a similar strategy to determine if a child is a child in need of services, or CHINS.

In fact, a few CHINS facilitations were mentioned in the grant proposals for family court projects around the state.

But unlike mediations for divorces or other family law issues that involve two parties, their lawyers, and a mediator, CHINS facilitations can include the parents, their attorney, service providers, a Indiana Department of Child Services lawyer, a court-appointed special advocate, and the facilitator. Sometimes, relatives of the children and foster parents will participate. Add to that the supervisor for the DCS attorney and/or the CASA supervisor in some cases, and a room can fill up quickly.

However, all of these voices are necessary, say those familiar with CHINS facilitations, because it is a chance for each to have a say in the agreement, including the parents, and possibly avoid a fact-finding hearing.

For instance, in LaPorte County, CHINS facilitations have taken place since 2003, according to director of juvenile court services Krista MacLennan. She said about 100 CHINS facilitations take place there every year. The LaPorte County program started, MacLennan said, after the magistrate for the juvenile court at the time learned of a similar program in Allen County.

Other programs around the state include CHINS facilitations in Bartholomew and Jackson counties, which started in 2004 and 2007, respectively, and are part of the same family courts project. Johnson County started doing CHINS facilitations three years ago.

The hope for this and other CHINS facilitation programs is to help families reach agreements about allegations, in lieu of a fact-finding hearing, in a way that will expedite the process and help relieve the courts of some of their CHINS cases. It also gives the families some ownership in what they agree to for the future.

This could include necessary services that the parents would be required to participate in, and if the parents opposed any of the suggestions of the people in the room, they would get a chance to express their concern during the facilitation, MacLennan said.

Magistrate Nancy Gettinger agreed.

“From the court’s perspective … it’s a more efficient use of the court’s time if the parties can agree. It also empowers the parties to be a part of the process. This way, things are not happening to them, but they’re asked to engage and help decide what it is they need to be doing,” she said.

She added compliance is higher, and it’s more difficult for a parent in an agreement to later say they didn’t understand or agree to what was discussed at a facilitation.

In cases where the parents deny the allegations, if there are criminal charges pending and they don’t want to admit to anything that could affect their criminal case, or if DCS attorneys suggest to a judge that they don’t think those involved can reach an agreement at a facilitation, the parties will still need to go to court for a fact-finding hearing.

Magistrate Gettinger, formerly an attorney for DCS, said she can also appreciate the perspective of DCS attorneys in these facilitations.

“At the beginning of these cases, we don’t have crystal balls to know everything. We aren’t sure when the parents agree to something in a facilitation that they’ll follow through. … As a Department of Child Services attorney, I needed to make sure these kids were safe on behalf of the state of Indiana, so I wasn’t willing to give up too much.”

She said her perspective had slightly changed since she became a magistrate.

“As a magistrate, I think this is great. It doesn’t mean that just because they have an agreement it’ll go swimmingly, because there are things I don’t know about every case,” she said, “but it helps.”

She and MacLennan said that most facilitations end with an agreement from everyone in the room.

But on the rare occasion someone in the room doesn’t sign off, such as the CASA or a CASA’s supervisor, “that speaks volumes to me. I have to weigh that in my decision to sign off on the order,” Magistrate Gettinger said.

Tammi Hickman, director of the Johnson County CASA Program, said she appreciates that CASAs have a voice in these facilitations.

In her county, Hickman said around 95 percent of all new CHINS cases were facilitated. As director, she attends facilitations for cases where DCS tells her a CASA should be placed on the case. She said there are typically four of these facilitations that take place every Monday.

Hickman said it is also helpful that the CASA meets with families after they’ve already set their agreement. Because the parents have been involved with the agreement, they are also more cooperative.

In LaPorte County, after Magistrate Gettinger signs off on an agreement, she meets with the parties.

“They have to listen to my speech that the agreement is signed, sealed, delivered. My job is to make sure the agreement gets implemented. I tell the parties, ‘I need to make sure the department does what it needs to do, and you need to do what you need to do,’” she said.

She also tells parties that if they are not in compliance or end up in court down the road, they will have a different experience.

“If after a year they are not any further along than they are today in doing what the agreement says they will do, they are looking at a different plan because the kids can’t live with that uncertainty,” she said.

MacLennan added the facilitations also save time by cutting out one of the typical steps in CHINS cases.

“What had happened prior to this, there would be an initial hearing where the Department of Child Services would present evidence and the court would determine if it was a CHINS case. The family would then be ordered to work with the Department of Child Services on a plan, and that could take another 30 to 45 days. Now we’re doing it all in the first 30 days. We’re creating the plan at that time,” she said.

MacLennan also said that in most cases the parents have counsel at the facilitation, whether it’s someone who is appointed to represent them or someone they pay. In most cases, the parties have met with counsel prior to the hearing.

In LaPorte County, facilitations are also used for cases that involve permanency planning. While these aren’t as successful as the CHINS facilitations, “I know we’ve avoided some drawn-out termination of parental rights hearings because we encouraged families to voluntarily terminate their rights,” MacLennan said.

A similar program in Bartholomew and Jackson counties, overseen by Pat McSoley, the coordinator/mediator for the family court project for Bartholomew, Brown, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, is experiencing success with CHINS facilitations similar to that recorded in LaPorte and Johnson counties.

Since his programs started in the last few years, “I would say one of the main differences is an increase in communication between the parents, service providers, and DCS,” McSoley said. “And I think that another difference is the parents are getting into service programs much quicker in the process.”

He added facilitations are also less adversarial, “making it more of a cooperative process for reunification of the family.”

As a result, McSoley said he has received positive feedback from the families. “One of the things we try to stress is we want their participation. We always ask if there are any services that aren’t being discussed and let them have a say in the ownership of the plan put into place.”

Like the others, McSoley said these facilitations were important because they can speed up the process.

“Any county with any significant number of CHINS cases should do this,” Hickman added.•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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