In a case filled with several errors and discrepancies, the Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the termination of parental rights of a mother and two fathers because the Department of Child Services failed to meet the burden of proving that termination is in the best interest of the children.
Mother B.G., her husband H.H.G., and ex-husband C.L.D. appeal the termination of parental rights over the three boys – C.D., H.G. and E.G. The boys were declared children in need of services because of the mother’s and her ex-husband’s incarceration and H.H.G.’s drug use.
In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of H.G., E.G., and C.D.; and B.G. (Mother), H.H.G. (Father), and C.L.D. (Father) v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, No. 30A01-1103-JT-267, the appellate court found the record showed that the children had a bond with their parents and that the parents had made progress during the pendency of the case. The case manager and court-appointed special advocate testified the children needed permanency, but the DCS didn’t identify any potential permanent home for the children.
“Because the parents appear willing to continue cooperating with DCS and working toward reunification and because there is no indication that allowing the parents more time to do so will harm the children, we conclude that DCS failed to show that termination is in the children’s best interest,” wrote Judge Terry Crone.
The judges pointed out in the 39-page opinion issues with how the trial court and DCS handled the case, including no explanation as to why the children’s grandmother couldn’t take the boys because of her dogs and that family case manager Katie Huntsman’s opinion that continuation of the parent-child relationship was a threat to the children’s well being because “no progress” was made wasn’t supported by the evidence. Crone pointed out that several findings in the termination orders took a similarly overstated tone or were inaccurate.
There was also an issue as to whether DCS technically complied with the law – which the judges decided not to resolve in the opinion – regarding Huntsman’s last two reports filed before the termination hearing that included documentation that the children’s foster parents, E.N. and C.N., were considered the adoptive family.
“DCS left the parents, the court, and the children’s CASA with the misleading impression that E.N. and C.N. were in the process of adopting the children, when in reality that placement was in jeopardy due to a licensing complaint. The record in this case also raises the disturbing possibility that DCS intentionally delayed its response to the first licensing complaint in order to leave this misleading impression intact. We note that DCS is legally required to disclose a wide array of information to the court and parties,” wrote Crone in a footnote. “… we wish to emphasize that DCS’s actions were not consistent with its purpose and that we do not condone what happened in this case.”