COA discourages interlocutory appeals of CHINS status changes

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory appeal a change in the permanency plan for two children from reunification to termination of parental rights while also cautioning that such trial court rulings are “generally not suitable for interlocutory review.”

The appeal pertains to a children in need of services case involving a “nontraditional couple” who have a long history with the Department of Child Services. In 2006, DCS brought sexual misconduct claims against C.Q., now 79, involving R.O., now 27, when R.O. was 15 years old. Since then, however, R.O. and C.Q. have continued their relationship and have three children together: A.Q., K.Q., and R.Q.

Claims of neglect of A.Q. and K.Q. were filed after a domestic-violence incident between the mother and father in 2013. Two months later, A.Q. and K.Q. both presented with injuries, and DCS again substantiated claims of neglect against mother and father. The two children were later removed from the home and adjudicated as CHINS. But after engaging in services with DCS, the parents regained care of the children.

Less than two years later, allegations were made against the parents that A.Q. had been physically abused, with several marks and bruises on her. A Riley Hospital for Children doctor determined A.Q.’s injuries were physical abuse.

A criminal investigation was launched when the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department was informed of A.Q.’s injuries. The children were removed from the home and placed with a foster mother. Three months later the children were adjudicated as CHINS. Six days after a dispositional hearing in the CHINS cases in 2015, the mother gave birth to R.Q. DCS removed R.Q. from the parent’s care while still in the hospital. R.Q. was then placed with the foster mother, and DCS filed a CHINS petition for R.Q.

DCS moved to cease all parenting time and communication after A.Q. disclosed that her father sexually abused her. In 2016, Lawrence Circuit Court ordered that all parenting time and communication with A.Q. and her parents cease. However, the court ordered that K.Q. and R.Q. should continue to have supervised visitation with the parents.

After pleading guilty to in January 2016 to battery of a child less than 14 years old, the mother was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and to fully cooperate with DCS. But in July 2016, DCS petitioned the court to approve changes in the permanency plans for all three children from reunification to termination due to lack of progress from the parents and a need for the children to live in a safe and permanent home.

The parents argue on interlocutory appeal that the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court’s order. They contend that the court’s finding that they are only in partial compliance with services is clearly erroneous and unsupported by the record.

However, the appellate court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s finding that the parents were not progressing with services, therapy and home-based services to maintain permanency plans of reunification. The COA affirmed the change in the permanency plan from reunification to termination of parental rights.

The court concluded that when the order was issued in November 2017, the case had been going on for three years, and the parents made no progress in their individual therapy. Therefore, the court’s decision was not clearly erroneous.

“Furthermore, we reiterate that a change in the permanency plan from reunification to termination is generally not suitable for interlocutory review,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik concluded, “particularly where, as here, DCS and the court continue reunification services, because parents cannot show actual harm from the change; they can only show the potential for future harm.”

The case is In the Matter of: A.Q., K.Q., and R.Q. (Minor Children), R.O. (Mother) and C.Q. (Father) v. Indiana Department of Child Services,  47A05-1710-JC-2353.

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