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Mom’s one-time meth use does not support CHINS case

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A mother’s isolated use of methamphetamine by itself is insufficient to sustain a child in need of services finding, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The case involves a Sullivan County mother of 6-year-old L.P. who Department of Child Services interviewed after a tip that the mother had used the drug. The mother tested positive after a voluntary screen. The child was placed with a relative, and DCS then began CHINS proceedings.

Mother voluntarily agreed to drug screens and provided 10 consecutive negative tests. Evidence also was presented that the child was well cared-for. Sullivan Superior Judge Robert E. Springer returned the child to the mother but determined the child to be in need of services. While commending mother for working and avoiding substance abuse, he wrote he agreed with DCS’ “zero tolerance” for meth, which he said had caused “tragic” effects in the southwestern Indiana county.

In In the Matter of: L.P., a Child Alleged to be a Child in Need of Services, K.K., Mother v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 77A01-1310-JC-427, the panel reversed.

“We are mindful that ‘juvenile court judges are often faced with the challenge of balancing multiple factors and multiple voices in a CHINS case’ and ‘[t]he process of the CHINS proceeding focuses on the best interests of the child, rather than guilt or innocence as in a criminal proceeding,’” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the panel, citing In re K.D., 962 N.E.2d at 1255.

“Although methamphetamine use may indeed be epidemic, here the relevant inquiry was whether L.P. was seriously impaired or endangered and in need of care and supervision unlikely to be provided without coercive intervention of the court. ... (T)he State proved a single use of methamphetamine; likewise, there is no suggestion that it took place in the presence of the child.

“... Mother thereafter voluntarily and consistently took drug screens with negative results. The factual finding of an isolated use of methamphetamine, without more, does not support the conclusion of law that L.P. was a CHINS,” the court held.

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