COA: Mother’s rights not violated by reasonable efforts order

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled an order that reasonable efforts to reunify a mother and her daughter were not necessary did not violate her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act and affirmed judgment of the trial court.

The mother gave birth to R.H. and the child was almost immediately designated as a Child In Need of Services. R.H. was the eleventh child the mother had, and none of them are in her custody. Six of the mother’s children had been adopted and two had been placed in the custody of their fathers.

The juvenile court held a fact-finding hearing in 2015 and DCS said it would file a motion seeking a reasonable efforts exception. Other testimony during the trial stated that while mother was loving, she didn’t have awareness of safety issues and had difficulty judging things, like how much the child should eat.

A hearing on DCS’ motion for a reasonable efforts exception was held later and the court granted the exception. It said mother’s inability to make progress as a mother and her “cognitive limitations,” as well as the fact that she been homeless, were reasons for granting the exception. The mother appealed.

DCS argued there had been no dispositional order in the case, so there’s nothing for the mother to appeal. In a decision written by judge Margret Robb, the COA panel ruled while that is technically true, the juvenile court’s decision acts as a final order, and “if mother is not allowed to appeal this issue now, she may never be able to,” so the COA agreed to hear the case on the merits.

The mother claimed the order denying reunification services unlawfully discriminated against her because she is entitled to reasonable accommodations for her undiagnosed disabilities. The COA said that the juvenile court’s decision was based not on the mother’s disability, but on her past history as a whole.

“Here, the juvenile court determined pursuant to state statute that DCS was not required to provide services to mother due to her previous history of parental rights’ terminations,” Robb wrote. “Any individual with Mother’s history, whether under a disability or not, would be treated the same by a juvenile court applying the statute.”

The case is In re the Matter of: R.H. and T.H. v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A04-1509-JC-1402.

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