CHINS findings for siblings upheld

The parents of four children who were all adjudicated as children in need of services have lost their appeal of the CHINS determinations, with the Indiana Court of Appeals dismissing arguments claiming error on the part of the trial court and the Department of Child Services.

Father B.B. and mother S.B. are the parents of three children, Br.B., M.B. and BA.B., while S.B. also has a fourth child, Ma.B. In January 2019, the Department of Child Services received a report of abuse or neglect against all four children, which was substantiated as to B.B.

All four children were removed from the parents and placed with relatives, and a CHINS petition was filed alleging the parents failed to give the children “a safe, stable, and appropriate living environment free from physical abuse and violence.” The Marion Superior Court issued a CHINS finding as to all four children, pointing to statements from the children saying their father/stepfather was mean, fed them worms and threatened to kill or beat them if they disclosed the abuse, among other similar claims.

The trial court also noted B.B. dismissed the children’s statements as fabrications from his wife’s mother, whom he claimed just wanted money. The children wanted to live with their mother, the court said, but were afraid to do so because B.B. would also be there.

On appeal of the CHINS findings — which were only challenged as to the three children the parents share — the couple first argued the trial court erred by denying their motion to dismiss for lack of venue. Specifically, the parents had argued that DCS failed to prove the children resided in Marion County, or that the alleged acts/conditions leading to their removal happened there.

But in rejecting that argument, which was based on Baugh v. State, 801 N.E.2d 629 (Ind. 2004), Judge Terry Crone said CHINS proceedings are not criminal, so the parents had no constitutional right to have their case tried in a particular county. Further, the relevant statute — Indiana Code § 31-32-7-1 — “does not state, or even suggest, that DCS is required to prove venue in a CHINS proceeding, and the statute’s venue provisions are permissive, not mandatory.”

The appellate court also rejected the parents’ evidentiary challenge in which they claimed their due process rights were violated when testimony was admitted regarding B.B.’s status as a sex offender and the conditions of the home. The parents said this was evidence of unpled allegations, but Crone noted “(t)he trial court’s CHINS order does not even mention Father’s sex offender status, and although the order mentions the conditions of Parents’ home in passing, those conditions are not cited as a basis for the trial court’s CHINS finding.”

Finally, the parents failed on their argument that DCS did not carry its burden to establish the need for coercive court intervention.

“Parents’ lengthy argument boils down to their contention that no coercive court intervention is required because they ‘voluntarily participated in services prior to the trial court’s dispositional decree requiring them to do so,’” Crone wrote. “But this contention disregards the unchallenged finding that Parents did not take steps for Children to receive the therapy they need during the pendency of the CHINS proceeding.

“…Indeed, Father’s explanation falls far short of an unequivocal commitment to get therapy for Children, especially in light of his attempts to blame their trauma and fear on manipulation by their maternal grandmother, as well as his desire to have Children testify so that he could ‘look him in his eyes and tell him they didn’t love him and they were lying,’” Crone continued. “In sum, Parents have failed to establish that DCS did not carry its burden on the issue of coercive court intervention. Therefore, we affirm.”

The case is In the Matter of Br.B., M.B., and BA.B. (Minor Children), Children in Need of Services, and B.B. (Father) and S.B. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 19A-JC-1301.

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