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Mother not denied due process by not having appointed counsel in CHINS case

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While disappointed that a trial court did not follow through with the appointment of counsel for a mother regarding a child in need of services action, any error in that failure was harmless, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. It upheld the termination of mother J.A.’s parental rights to her son G.P.

G.P. was removed from his mother’s home as an infant due to allegations he was a CHINS, which the court later found to be true. The boy was placed with his paternal grandparents. The goal was reunification, but J.A. did not complete certain services, including keeping the Department of Child Services up to date with her contact information and discontinuing drug use. During a review hearing, she requested counsel, which the trial court found she was entitled to. However, the court never appointed an attorney and J.A. never mentioned her lack of representation at a future hearing.

J.A. later moved to her mother’s house in Virginia without notifying DCS and the plan for permanency and reunification was changed to adoption. The mother did not appear at the adoption hearings, but at some point counsel was appointed to represent her. Her attorney sought to dismiss or continue the case, arguing she had been deprived of her due process rights when an attorney wasn’t appointed during the CHINS case. J.A.’s parental rights were terminated.

“Mother argues that having counsel would have allowed her to inform the court of things such as her reasons for moving, the steps she was taking toward sobriety, and her current living arrangement with her mother. It is not clear why counsel was needed to inform the court, when Mother could have informed the court herself if she had appeared for the hearings,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote in In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of G.P., and J.A. v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1208-JT-643.

“It was the sum total of Mother’s actions (or inaction) by the time of the termination hearing, nearly a year later, that ultimately led to termination. This included her continuing failure to complete services in that time period, her lack of communication with DCS, and the questionable appropriateness of the home that she could provide at that time,” she continued.

The COA found that J.A.’s due process rights weren’t violated and there was sufficient evidence to support the termination.

 

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