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CHINS adjudication reversed; children not seriously endangered

May 31, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s adjudication of children in need of services, finding the mother’s struggle for stable housing and her positive drug tests did not meet the Indiana Supreme Court’s standard that the children were seriously endangered.

The Indiana Department of Child Services investigated the family after receiving a report of the children being present during a domestic dispute and living in a house with drugs. DCS workers learned the mother, who told them she was an attorney, knew marijuana plants were in the home. DCS also noted the condition of house was “terrible,” with no drinking water and an inoperable toilet. Also, two of the children were having to sleep on uninflated air mattresses.

While DCS was assessing the family, the mother and children moved into the home of the father’s mother. However, when the DCS worker attempted to put a safety plan in place to protect the children from domestic violence, the mother became angry. Then DCS offered resources like food stamps but the mother said she didn’t need those things because she was an attorney.

A short time later, the mother and her children moved back into their trailer which on a second visit, DCS found had been cleaned. But the mother then failed two drug tests, testing positive for marijuana.

Lake Superior Court authorized services for the mother and adjudicated the children to be CHINS.

The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling DCS did not meet its burden of demonstrating the mother’s actions or inactions seriously endangered her children.

The unanimous panel noted DCS filed the CHINS petition when mother was struggling to find a place to live and was a victim of domestic violence. However, she has since found housing and filed a protective order against the father.

In addition, DCS did not present any evidence that the children were endangered by the presence of marijuana or their mother’s use of the drug. 

“We acknowledge that the ‘CHINS statues do not require the juvenile court and DCS to wait until a child is physically or emotionally harmed to intervene,’” Judge Edward Najam, Jr., wrote, quoting from the state’s brief. “But the CHINS finding must be based on facts. And it was DCS’s burden to prove that Mother’s actions or inactions have seriously endangered the Children. Here, DCS did not present any evidence that the Children’s physical or mental conditions were seriously impaired or endangered as a result of Mother’s actions or inactions.”

The case is In the Matter of: Ad.M., An.M., and S.M. (Minor Children); A.M. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 45A04-1711-JC-2634.

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