CHINS adjudication reversed for mom who tested clean

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A mother whose kids were found to be children in need of services despite her successful efforts to stay sober and get the help she needed found favor with an appellate panel Monday, who reversed the CHINS adjudication on the basis of insufficient evidence.

When mother M.O. gave birth to her fourth child, traces of methamphetamine were found in the baby’s cord blood, causing concern among her nurses. All four children were removed from M.O.’s care when she told them she wasn’t sure where she would live after leaving the hospital and that she was unsure of how the meth got into the baby’s system. DCS then filed a petition alleging the children as CHINS. 

M.O. later admitted to developing an opiate habit after using pain pills, which had led to a drug-related felony conviction. But upon her children’s removal, M.O. passed her drug test submissions and completed her other DCS-ordered services with flying colors, garnering praise from her DCS case manager for her success at remaining sober. Regardless, the Tippecanoe Superior Court adjudicated the children as CHINS.

On appeal, M.O. argued that insufficient evidence existed to demonstrate that the children were in need care that they were not receiving or that they were unlikely to receive without the coercive intervention of the court.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with M.O. in In the Matter of A.R., A.S., L.S., and J.O., Children Alleged to be Cihldren in Need of Services; M.O. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JC-2523, finding that DCS failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove the kids were CHINS.

The appellate court noted M.O.’s action to seek and obtain counseling on her own accord without the assistance or direction from DCS in regard to her meth use, and that DCS did not present any evidence that she had tested positive since the petitions were filed. 

But DCS alleged the children needed care that they were unlikely to receive without the coercive intervention of the court because M.O.’s new full-time job offer was contingent on her passing a drug test and background check, and that without that new position, she would be unable to afford a new condo she had secured.  

“However, any concern that DCS may have that Mother ‘would likely not be able to afford her new apartment’ or might relapse is merely speculation about a potential future problem,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the unanimous panel.

It pointed out that even if M.O. were to lose her new job, ‘the mere fact of an unemployed parent does not make a CHINS.” Neither would living in a shelter as a result of losing housing. Rather, the appellate panel noted that M.O. had made significant progress in securing employment, creating a budget, finding an appropriate place to live, actively and successfully participating in DCS services and obtaining help to remain sober.

“In sum, DCS did not meet its burden to demonstrate that the Children have needs that they were unlikely to receive without the coercive intervention of the court,” Najam wrote. “We therefore hold that the trial court erred when it found the Children to be CHINS, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment.”

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