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Father’s lack of parenting experience does not support CHINS finding

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the adjudication of a toddler as a child in need of services after finding the Department of Child Services did not establish that the child’s father is unlikely to meet the child’s needs absent court intervention based on his lack of parenting experience and previous diagnosis of having post-traumatic stress disorder.

Father M.H. was on active duty in the military most of S.A.’s life and had only seen the child twice before CHINS proceedings were initiated. His paternity was not established until these proceedings began. M.H. never paid child support or provided anything for S.A.’s care while on active duty.

S.A. was removed from his mother’s care due to her drug use and adjudicated as a CHINS. S.A. lived with his maternal grandmother and stepfather at the time of the adjudication and remained in their care.

After his paternity was established, M.H. began spending time with his son and wanted to receive custody of the boy. He visited the child at the grandmother’s house, and while he was a little slow changing diapers and clothes on the child, he interacted well with him.

At a fact-finding hearing regarding S.A.’s CHINS status, the trial court criticized M.H. for not establishing paternity sooner and also referenced M.H.’s previous revelation to DCS that he had been diagnosed and treated for PTSD while on active duty. DCS and the court-appointed special advocate wanted the CHINS adjudication to continue, citing concerns about the boy’s unfamiliarity with his father and M.H.’s lack of prior parenting experience.

The trial judge continued with the adjudication, ordering M.H. to participate in services and submit documentation for his PTSD treatment or undergo a psychological evaluation.

In In the Matter of: S.A. (Minor Child), Child in Need of Services and M.H. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1402-JC-74, the judges sua sponte addressed the CHINS proceeding and found father’s due process rights had been violated because by adjudicating the child as a CHINS prior to father’s fact-finding hearing, the father was deprived of a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

But they did not rely on that finding to reverse the adjudication. Instead, the judges cited insufficient evidence.

“DCS does not satisfy its burden of proof by simply highlighting Father’s shortcomings as a parent; rather, DCS must establish that Father is unlikely to meet the Child’s needs absent coercive court intervention. Neither the trial court’s findings nor the other evidence in the record supports such a conclusion. If it were sufficient for the purposes of CHINS adjudications that a parent has no prior parenting experience or training, then all new parents would necessarily be subject to DCS intervention,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

Father had resolved the allegations in the CHINS petition by the time of the fact-finding hearing. Also, his PTSD diagnosis was relied on by DCS as a post hoc justification, as it was not raised in the petition as a basis for DCS involvement.

“We find Father’s voluntary admission of his PTSD history to DCS and the CASA to be indicative of the fact that court intervention would not be necessary to compel Father into treatment,” she wrote.
 

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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