By Margaret Ryznar
As Indiana continues to experience heightened levels of CHINS and termination of parental rights cases, several interesting cases arose in 2016 related to these topics. In one such case, In re R.S., 56 N.E.3d 625 (Ind. 2016), the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the decision of both the trial and appellate courts to terminate a father’s parental rights. When the child was removed from the mother’s custody due to her drug use, father requested that the child be placed with him. Previously, the father had been in prison for a few years, but had stayed in regular contact with the child throughout that time. While in prison, he failed to complete programs ordered by the court, but did complete various parenting and self-improvement courses. As a condition of parole, the father also completed domestic violence counseling, substance abuse evaluation and treatment, and a mental health evaluation. The Indiana Supreme Court noted the general consensus among the Department of Child Services manager, home-based therapist and guardian ad litem that the father and child shared a close bond.
In another case, In re J.B., 61 N.E.3d 308 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016), the appellate court found it erroneous for DCS to file a motion to change custody from mother to father, while simultaneously awaiting a dispositional hearing that would have ordered services for the mother. In other words, sole custody to the father should not have been sought before giving the mother a meaningful opportunity to participate in services recommended by DCS.
In another case addressing the actions of DCS, In re F.S., 53 N.E.3d 582 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016), the appellate court found that a mother’s due process rights were violated when her children were compelled to DCS interviews without any evidence by DCS that these interviews were needed for it to carry out its statutory obligation. The court noted that under the statute, it is insufficient for DCS to simply state a need for an interview.
In December of 2016, In re O.G. II (minor child) and K.T. (Mother) & O.G. (Father) v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 49A02-1605-JT-1072, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a decision terminating a mother and father’s parental relationships with their child. The court noted that the family case manager for DCS exhibited an “extraordinarily troubling pattern of behavior” of neglecting the father, even though he wanted to engage in services.
Finally, in D.B. v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 61 N.E.3d 364 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) (vacated), an Indiana appellate court terminated parental rights based on a determination that the conditions resulting in the children’s removal from the home would not be remedied in light of the parents’ failure to consistently participate in reunification services. When DCS became involved in this matter, the home was unclean, the mother tested positive for methamphetamine, and the father refused drug testing but admitted marijuana use. The father continued to refuse to submit to drug testing for some time, even after the mother admitted that both parents used methamphetamines less than an hour before driving a car with the children inside. Twenty-three of the father’s eventual 35 drug screens tested positive for methamphetamines or marijuana. Additionally, the mother stated that physical altercations between the parents had taken place in front of the children. The parents’ participation in reunification services was sporadic, with the father failing to complete a drug program in the allotted time frame and the parents failing to complete the recommended couple’s counseling. The appellate court concluded that although DCS filed termination of parental rights petitions prematurely, such error was harmless, and parental rights should be terminated based on insufficiency of evidence that the home situation for the children would be remedied. The Indiana Supreme Court has now assumed jurisdiction over the appeal, with a result expected in 2017. If trends continue, 2017 no doubt will bring many additional CHINS and termination of parental rights cases, clarifying the law in this area as the state sees a significant wave of such cases.•
• Margaret Ryznar is an associate professor of law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The opinions expressed are those of the author.