Reversal: Insufficient evidence to support termination of mother’s rights

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A mother’s efforts to get her life back on track and reunite with her daughter were recognized by the Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday, which reversed an order terminating the mother’s parent-child relationship for insufficient evidence. 

Mother C.B. was arrested in 2017 after police found her unconscious with spice cigarettes near where she was lying on the couch. At the time police arrived at her home, C.B.’s 3-year-old son was walking down the street unsupervised. C.B. was ultimately charged with Level 6 felony neglect of a dependent and Class A misdemeanor possession of a synthetic drug. 

As a result, A.B. and her younger brother were adjudicated as children in need of services. Since that time, A.B. has been placed in four foster care families and with two relative caregivers who were willing to adopt her. Meanwhile, her mother was ordered to participate in a substance abuse and parenting assessment, parenting time, random drug screen tests, a mental health evaluation, individual counseling and family therapy. 

Although she initially participated in case management services and showcased positive parenting visits, C.B. begin to miss her appointments due to depression. C.B. completed a mental health and substance abuse assessment that led her to an intensive outpatient program for her use of meth, opiates and alcohol. However, she was discharged from the IOP for noncompliance and was later suspended from all parenting visits after testing positive for meth. 

But C.B. consistently participated in drug screens in the months leading to her termination hearing, all of which were clean, and she was still participating at the time of the termination hearing. During the hearing, C.B. was just five days shy of five months of sobriety. She also testified to actively looking for new housing, being in her second month of employment, taking medication for her depression and working to obtain health insurance. 

Considering her progress, the Indiana Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence to prove that continuing C.B.’s parent-child relationship with A.B. would pose a threat to the child’s well-being, or that the termination was in A.B.’s best interest. It further found insufficient evidence to prove that the conditions resulting in the placement of A.B. outside C.B.’s custody would not be remedied. 

“Although the State argues that Mother likely will be unable to maintain her sobriety long-term without treatment, Mother has maintained her sobriety even after DCS stopped funding services in June 2018,” Judge John Baker wrote for the court. He further noted C.B. missed services because she was incarcerated, which is an “insufficient basis for terminating parental rights,” and that she had been living in the same place for a longer period. 

The appellate court further found that DCS failed to offer C.B. a chance to rectify her bond with A.B. when it refused to allow additional visitation.  

“Moreover, DCS did not explain why the passage of time between visits would make another visit traumatic for Child. Considering that Child was placed in six different homes throughout these proceedings, we find DCS’s reasoning puzzling,” Baker continued. “Indeed, it is hard to understand how seeing a parent with whom she has a bond could be more traumatic than bouncing from placement to placement.

“…We acknowledge that Mother must continue to build a stable, sober life, participate in services, and preserve her bond with Child,” the appellate court concluded. “Yet, based on the record, we simply cannot say that clear and convincing evidence exists that, at this point, the termination of this relationship is in Child’s best interests.” 

The trial court’s judgement was therefore reversed and remanded in In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: A.B. (Minor Child), and C.B. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JT-3110.

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