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Judiciary addressing rising number of CHINS cases around state

November 21, 2016

A sharp increase in the number of case filings involving children in need of services comes as the number of juvenile delinquencies across Indiana is decreasing, which Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush attributes to the state court system’s focus on increasing resources to juvenile courts and assigning appropriate punishments to juvenile offenders.

In 2015, 17,491 CHINS cases were filed in Indiana courts of record, up from 14,227 in 2014, a 22.9 percent increase, according to the 2015 Indiana Judicial Service Report. Over the 10-year period between 2006 and 2015, CHINS filings increased by 97.4 percent.

But juvenile delinquency filings have actually decreased by 48.6 percent in the same decade, down from 27,835 in 2006 to just 14,297 in 2015. Between 2014 and 2015, juvenile delinquency filings fell by 6.9 percent.

The sharp uptick in CHINS cases is largely attributable to the surge of cases involving parental opioid abuse, particularly abuse of heroin, meth and fentanyl, Rush said.

Unfortunately, the chief justice said the state court system currently does not have enough resources to equip judges to effectively handle the surge in CHINS cases, so she and other judicial leaders are looking for ways to transfer existing resources within the state to the areas where juvenile courts are most in need.

For example, a recent study of how judges allocate their time determined that judges in some counties, such as Tippecanoe, have a very high volume of CHINS cases, Rush said. In a recent conversation with Tippecanoe County judges, Rush said she learned they are working well past normal business hours to keep up with the constant influx of juvenile cases, sometimes as late as 11 p.m.  So, the judiciary is looking for ways to temporarily shift judicial officers and resources from counties with fewer CHINS cases to those counties with the most CHINS cases, she said.

Additionally, there is a shortage of volunteers for the Court Appointed Special Advocates program that the judiciary is working to fill, Rush said. Right now, there are 5,721 Hoosier children who are wards of the court who are on the waiting list for a CASA appointment, a number the chief justice said is “very concerning.”

The Indiana judicial system is also collaborating with its counterparts in other states to combat the growing drug problem. Recently, representatives from the Indiana Supreme Court, Department of Child Services, Family and Social Services Administration, Attorney General’s office and legislature attended a regional opioid conference at the invitation of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to learn about how courts in different states can work to combat the regional drug abuse problem that is plaguing children and families throughout the country, especially when drugs are being moved across state lines.

Although some children who are CHINS do cross over into the realm of juvenile delinquency, the chief justice said the state would be closely monitoring the ease of access children have to opioids and the age at which they gain access to ensure that CHINS whose parents are addicts do not become addicts themselves.

But when a child does become a juvenile delinquent, Rush said the state is employing programs designed to make more objective decisions about appropriate actions for delinquents on the front end of their time in the court system.

Through the Juvenile Detentions Alternatives Initiative, the chief justice said there has been a 33 percent decrease in juvenile delinquents being sent to juvenile facilities. Instead, Rush said the judiciary has made a conscious effort to only send high-level juvenile offenders to correctional facilities, an effort that has led to a reduction in statewide recidivism rates among juvenile offenders.

Rush said she hopes the recent surge in CHINS filings is merely a temporary problem that does not translate into an increase in juvenile delinquency cases in the future.

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