The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that court-appointed special advocates have the statutory authority to prosecute a petition to terminate parental rights, even when the Department of Child Services opposes the termination.
The court affirmed the Delaware Circuit Court's termination of a mother's parental rights to her five children in In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of Z.B., D.B., L.B., Me.B., Ma.B. (Minor Children) and A.B. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, et al., 18A-JT-318.
A.B. is the mother of five children who had been adjudicated children in need of services in 2015 due to educational neglect, substance abuse, home conditions, and lack of supervision. One of the children, Ma.B. was placed in the custody of her father.
In September 2016, DCS filed a petition to terminate A.B.’s parental rights as to the four younger children. On November 2016, the CASAs filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights as to Ma.B.
DCS and A.B. moved to dismiss the petition concerning Ma.B., arguing that the CASAs could not prosecute a petition to terminate parental rights where DCS did not support the petition. They also argued that letting a “CASA prosecute a termination petition is tantamount to letting a child prosecute a termination case against his or her parents.”
However, the Court of Appeals determined that because the Indiana legislature specifically authorizes CASA workers to independently initiate termination proceedings, they can also independently prosecute these matters.
“[O]ur legislature specifically created a mechanism for DCS — or a guardian ad litem or a CASA — to express opposition to a petition to terminate parental rights,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the court. “That motion may be successful, but when it is not, we discern no impediment to proceeding with the petition to terminate parental rights.”
A.B. received a psychological evaluation, which revealed that she has cognitive disabilities that affect “her day-to-day living, including increased difficulty with problem-solving, lack of [judgment], difficulty interacting with peers in her environment, and difficulty with problem-solving on behalf of children.” It also found that she had an IQ of 64 due to a previous traumatic brain injury.
During supervised visits in November 2016, therapists noted aggressive and violent behavior among the children and that A.B. was unable to focus on more than one child at a time. During the same time, Ma.B’s visitation with mother was suspended.
Ma.B., 11 at the time, had exhibited instances of self-harm prior to October 2016, and failed to make any improvement in therapy sessions between February 2016 and October 2016. After suspending visitation, Ma.B. made “significant improvement, including being happier and more optimistic, reducing negative behavior, and progressing academically.”
Ultimately, the appellate court found there was sufficient evidence to terminate A.B.’s parental rights to all five children for their safety and best interests.
The case is remanded to correct scrivener’s errors in entering orders pertaining to children D.B., L.B., and Me.B.