DCS did not have sufficient evidence for CHINS adjudication

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The Indiana Department of Child Services failed to present any evidence that a newborn’s mother did not have stable housing or that her actions seriously endangered her child, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in reversing a child in need of services adjudication.

DCS was notified that mother J.J. had tested positive for marijuana after giving birth to K.S. A caseworker went to the hospital to speak with J.J., but she was uncooperative. A few days later, the caseworker returned to the hospital and J.J. signed DCS paperwork. J.J. told the caseworker she’d be living with her cousin upon discharge, and there were no signs that K.S. tested positive for marijuana or had any issues.

DCS then filed a petition alleging the newborn was a CHINS, citing mother’s admission to use marijuana while pregnant, that she failed to provide K.S., with a safe and proper living environment free from drugs, and that she was homeless and lacked a plan for stable housing.  

K.S. went into a foster home and J.J. had a few supervised visits with him. At the CHINS hearing, the court adjudicated him to be a CHINS, saying K.S.’s physical or mental condition is serious impaired or endangered as a result of J.J.’s inability, refusal or neglect to provide him with life’s necessities. The court also said J.J. uses marijuana and does not have stable housing for herself or K.S.

J.J. appealed, arguing DCS didn’t have sufficient evidence to support the adjudication. The COA reversed, with Judge Rudolph Pyle writing that there is no evidence showing how mother’s admitted use of marijuana two months prior to giving birth to K.S. seriously impaired or endangered K.S. All testimony at the hearing said K.S. was doing fine and mother was engaged and loving at their supervised visits.

Mother had moved in with her cousin and her statement to the caseworker that she felt she “wasn’t really wanted” at her cousin’s house does not support the court’s finding that J.J. did not have stable house, the appellate panel found.

“Although the trial court may have been concerned that at some point, Mother and K.S. would be asked to move out of Mother’s cousin’s house, at the time of the fact-finding hearing, this had not happened,” Pyle wrote in In the Matter of: K.S. (Minor Child) Child in Need of Services; J.J. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1701-JC-38.

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