Finding the evidence to be “wholly lacking,” the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a CHINS adjudication and admonished the juvenile court and the Indiana Department of Child Services to refocus their efforts on families truly in need.
Four siblings, all under the age of 10, were found to be Children in Need of Services in part because the mother, A.M., had a history of drug use and the father of the youngest child tested positive for illegal substances. The Marion Superior Court also ordered the mother to participate in home-based therapy, home-based case management and random drug screens.
The Court of Appeals did not find the evidence sufficient to support a CHINS finding. There was no evidence the children were endangered or ever lacked food, shelter or love and care. Moreover, there is no evidence that the parents ever used drugs in the presence of the children or were impaired by substance abuse while the children were in their care.
“The mere fact of an unemployed parent does not make a CHINS,” Judge John Baker wrote. “The mere fact of a family on food stamps does not make a CHINS. Even the mere fact of a family living in a shelter while seeking stable housing does not make a CHINS. Here, those mere facts are the only facts (and one of them was merely a future concern rather than a present fact). The record is wholly devoid of a single example of the children’s needs going unmet.”
The Department of Child Services argued the children were CHINS because the youngest, H.G., tested positive for marijuana at birth. However, the Court of Appeals found DCS failed to prove H.G. was not receiving the care, treatment or rehabilitation he needs.
“We are well aware that DCS and the courts are overwhelmed with the growing numbers of CHINS cases statewide,” Baker concluded. “All would be better served if the system focused its time, efforts, and resources on the families who really need them. This one did not.”
The case is In the Matter of S.M., J.M. A.M. and H.G., Children in Need of Services, A.M. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1505-JC-377.