Appeals court affirms decision to strip parental rights

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday a trial court decision to involuntarily strip a couple of their parental rights despite the father’s claim that the Department of Child Services had not produced enough evidence to warrant such action.

In D.B. and V.G. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 54A01-1603-JT-607, the Montgomery Circuit Court terminated the parental rights of father D.B. and mother V.G. to their two daughters, Bi.B and Br.B and V.G.’s three older sons Ra.G, H.G. and Ru.G, in March 2016 after the parents failed to comply with Department of Child Services programming, drug rehabilitation programs and recommended therapy sessions.

After DCS received a report in April 2014 that the home D.B and V.G. shared with the five children was in poor condition, law enforcement officials and DCS investigators discovered that Ra.G. and H.G., 8 and 7 years old, respectively, had been left at home alone and without a working telephone. The investigator also discovered that the home was littered with trash and dirty dishes and was infested with mice. Further, V.G. tested positive for methamphetamine, and D.B. admitted to using marijuana three weeks earlier.

The five children were then adjudicated as children in need of services and were named wards of DCS while remaining in the parents’ home. The court ordered the parents to participate in home-based case management, substance abuse treatment and random drug screenings.

In July 2014, DCS confirmed that V.G. and D.B. had been in a physical altercation while the children were present. V.G. also admitted that she and D.B. had used meth together a few days earlier and had driven the children less than an hour later. The children were removed from the home, with the two girls placed in one foster home and the boys, whose father is dead, placed in another. The parents were ordered to participate in supervised visitation.

Meanwhile, the parents participated only sporadically in reunification services throughout the underlying CHIN proceedings.

D.B. refused to submit to random drug screenings for several months, and when he did submit, 23 out of 35 tested positive for marijuana, meth or both. He was referred to an eight-week intensive outpatient program for substance abuse, but did not complete it in the allotted time frame. He was then sent to a relapse prevention program, which he eventually completed after failing to begin the program on time.

D.B. also stopped attending couple’s counseling with V.G. after two sessions and did not attend any sessions of the individual therapy he was referred to.

Jamie Selby, the couple’s home-based case manager, said the parents refused to work on budgeting issues and “were reluctant or resistant to complying with services recommendations.” Additionally, during their supervised visits with the children, the parents struggled with engaging the children and imposing discipline, and D.B. often disrupted those visits by falling asleep or getting into an argument with V.G. At times they did not show up for visits at all.

After their parental rights were terminated, D.B. and V.G. appealed, saying the termination petition was filed prematurely. D.B. argued that because DCS made no allegation that the girls had been removed from the home for at least six months – a fact the Court of Appeals said was unequivocally established – the petition could not be granted on that basis.

Further, D.B. argued that the girls were removed from the home on July 24, 2014, and the petition was filed Oct. 9, 2015, falling five days short of an additional requirement that termination petitions be filed at least 15 months after a child is removed from a parent and placed under DCS supervision.

Both DCS and the Court of Appeals acknowledged that the 15 month window had not been met before the termination petition was filed. However, the Court of Appeals wrote that filing the petition five days early harmed neither the parents nor the children. Thus, under the harmless error rule, the court rejected D.B. and V.G.’s appeal on that basis.

D.B. also argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the termination of his parental rights to the girls, saying that DCS did not establish by clear and convincing evidence a reasonable probability that the conditions resulting in the girls’ removal and placement outside the home would not be remedied.

D.B. told the appellate court that he and V.G. were separating, which would remedy the problems in his relationship with the children’s mother. V.G. also said that she was “moving out slowly,” However, V.G. had threatened to move out before and had never done so. Thus, the court wrote that the trial court was correct when it ruled that the combative relationship would likely not be remedied.

D.B. also argued that the evidence related to his drug use was thin. However, the CHINS court continued to find evidence of the father testing positive for marijuana and meth throughout its proceedings. Thus, the appellate court wrote that the trial court was correct when it ruled that D.B.’s drug problem would not be remedied.

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