COA upholds TPR ruling after parents’ continued substance abuse

Parents arguing the termination of their parental rights was not in the best interest of their minor child lost their argument when the Indiana Court of Appeals found their ongoing substance abuse issues had not improved over time. 

Mother L.M. and father Sa.S. fled to Florida with their son, S.S. after the Department of Child Services requested that they submit to drug tests following a report that they had been using illegal substances in the child’s presence and neglecting him. When Sa.S. returned to Indiana with S.S. a few weeks later, the child was removed from his father’s care and placed in a home with his paternal grandfather.

Based on their substance abuse issues, decision to flee the state with S.S. and prior interactions with DCS at S.S.’s birth, a child in need of services petition was filed. S.S. was ultimately found to be a CHINS, and his parents were ordered to complete a myriad of services, including maintaining contact with DCS, maintaining suitable, safe and stable housing, and refraining from using illegal controlled substances, among other things.

But both parents failed to complete many of their requirements, leading DCS to file a December 2017 petition to terminate their parental rights. The White Circuit Court ordered the termination, and both L.M. and Sa.S. appealed separately. 

But finding DCS did not fail to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the circumstances leading to S.S.’s removal would not be remedied, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s termination of parental rights In the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: S.S. (Minor Child) and L.M. (Mother) and Sa.S. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JT-2370.

The appellate court pointed out that S.S.’s removal was a result of his parents’ ongoing substance abuse issues and use of illegal drugs in his presence, noting the trial court made 136 uncontested findings “relating to continued removal and reasonable probability reasons for removal not remedied.”

Specifically, the appellate court rejected L.M.’s argument that the trial court erred in failing to recognize her recent progress in visiting S.S. once a week and her production of several negative drug tests. The panel determined that argument did not address the fact that she failed to challenge any of the juvenile court’s findings, noting the mother failed to complete a drug abuse program despite being counseled to participate in such a program for more than a year. Additionally, the court said that her efforts to bond with S.S. were “unimpressive.”

Dissimilarly, the appeals court noted Sa.S. showed initial promise in his efforts to cooperate with DCS, engage in home-based case management and spend time with his son. However, the panel also found over time his behavior worsened, and the father repeatedly tested positive for several illegal substances.

Sa.S. cited In re J.M, 908 N.E.2d 191 (Ind. 2009) to argued DCS was trying to terminate both parents’ rights simply because of their drug issues. But the appellate found few similarities between Sa.S.’s assertions and J.M. and, thus, concluded the evidence established a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in S.S.’s removal and continued placement outside the home would not be remedied. 

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