CHINS finding reversed; mother’s marijuana use alone insufficient

The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a child in need of services finding after concluding that the child’s mother, while admitting to using marijuana, was not proven to have used it in the child’s presence or seriously endangered the child as a result.

In January 2020, the Department of Child Services filed a request for minor D.S. to be adjudicated as a child in need of services due to her mother’s use of illegal substances that DCS alleged endangered the child. The petition also sought a requirement of coercive intervention to compel the child’s mother, A.P., to comply with terms of an informal adjustment she had previously entered into with DCS.

Although A.P. had entered into the informal adjustment, she failed to submit 14 out of 22 drug screens within a five-month period and likewise failed to comply with minimal requirements of her extended informal adjustment. Mother admitted to using marijuana on several occasions and emphasized that she uses marijuana when she feels “stressed or overwhelmed,” but A.P. claimed to only use marijuana when the child is not in her care. Additionally, DCS noted that A.P. has never appeared to be under the influence.

Regardless, the Greene Circuit Court ultimately ordered to child as a CHINS and that A.P. participate in services, but an appellate court reversed in a Wednesday decision.

Citing Perrin v. Marion County Officer of Child Services, 866 N.E.2d 269, 271 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) and Ad.M v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 103 N.E.3d 709, 713-14 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018), the appellate court noted that it reversed both cases for similar reasons: admission of a single use or evidence of one parent’s use, without more, does not demonstrate a child has been seriously endangered and is ultimately insufficient to support a CHINS determination.

Similarly, here, despite Mother’s admitted drug use, DCS did not present any evidence that Mother used marijuana while the Child was in the home or that DCS had ever perceived Mother to be under the influence of drugs. The (family case manager) conceded that ‘the basic needs of the [Child] are being met’ and a safety plan was in effect that placed the Child with Maternal Grandmother if Mother felt overwhelmed and in need of marijuana. The FCM’s concern, without more, that ‘[i]llegal substance use impairs your thinking, your response, … your normal thought processes and action’ is not sufficient to support a CHINS determination,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the appellate court.

“As DCS did not carry its burden that Mother’s actions or inactions have seriously endangered the Child, we conclude that the trial court erred when it adjudicated Child to be a CHINS,” it concluded.

The case is In the Matter of: D.S. (Minor Child), And A.P. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 20A-JC-777.

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