COA affirms CHINS adjudication for out-of-state, traveling children

IL file photo

A West Virginia mother whose children were taken into emergency custody in Indiana could not convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana that the adjudication of her kids as children in need of services was the wrong decision.

While mother B.G. was traveling from West Virginia to Arizona with her two minor daughters, A.R. and I.T., she stopped at the Community Hospital emergency room in Indianapolis.

During her emergency room visit, B.G. was behaving strangely and began hallucinating. One of the children stated that their mother hadn’t slept in four or five days and was acting “highly paranoid.”

While at the hospital, B.G. called the Indiana Department of Child Services and asked DCS to send someone to retrieve the children.

By the time a DCS worker had arrived and put the children in emergency custody, B.G. had to be restrained by hospital staff because she was “screaming and kicking” and had hit a staff member. Her drug screen was positive for amphetamines, and during discharge, she was diagnosed with unspecified schizophrenia spectrum, unspecified anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions.

The next day, DCS filed petitions alleging the girls were children in need of services based on a variety of factors, including exposure to domestic violence between B.G. and her boyfriend; unstable housing; and the fact that B.G. “was placed on a mental health hold, thereby leaving [Children] without a caregiver.”

B.G. moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that neither she nor the children were residents of Indiana and that none of them had maintained or established sufficient minimum contacts with the state. She also argued that Indiana could ensure the safety of her children without “improperly exercising jurisdiction” over the family.

B.G. then moved to have the Marion Superior Court immediately place the children with her at their family residence in West Virginia. She argued that at the time she contacted DCS, she “was traveling alone with [Children]” and “needed to obtain an immediate caregiver for them” while she sought medical treatment.

The trial court denied her motions and subsequently dismissed her motion to reconsider. Then, after determining that Indiana was a convenient forum pursuant to Indiana Code § 31-21-5-8 and that the children were CHINS, the trial court issued an order declining the continued exercise of jurisdiction and staying the proceedings.

The court determined that “West Virginia is the more appropriate forum for disposition of the matter” and “is in the best position to order and monitor any services for the family, and to maintain and oversee reasonable efforts to reunify the family.”

The juvenile court then ordered the relevant parties and services to begin transition of the case and children to West Virginia. As a result, it denied DCS’ motion for an expedited dispositional hearing, noting that it had stayed the proceedings as required by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act until West Virginia could assume jurisdiction of the case.

I.T. was successfully returned to her mother’s home in West Virginia and the state accepted jurisdiction of her, but it declined jurisdiction over A.R., who remained in Indiana foster care. A.R. was found to have a multitude of physical and mental health issues, and B.G. was ordered to complete counseling therapy individually and with A.R.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in In the Matter of A.R. and I.T. (Minor Children) B.G. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services and Kid’s Voice of Indiana, 21A-JC-2149, finding that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in concluding it had emergency jurisdiction over the CHINS matter.

It also found that Indiana was not an inconvenient forum for the CHINS proceedings. As for the timing of the dispositional hearing, the appellate court noted that the trial court acted as required by I.C. 31-21-5-8(c)(1) in staying the proceedings until the West Virginia court could determine whether it would assume jurisdiction over the CHINS cases.

“Pursuant to the UCCJA, when the Indiana court determined it was no longer the convenient forum, it was required to stay all proceedings until West Virginia determined whether it would accept or decline jurisdiction,” Judge Melissa May wrote. “… Thus, Mother’s argument fails because the juvenile court was not permitted, pursuant to the UCCJA, to hold any hearing until West Virginia accepted or declined jurisdiction.”

Further, the COA concluded the trial court held the dispositional hearing within 30 days as required. It pointed to the time after the CHINS adjudication but before the stay — four days — and the time between the lift of the stay and the dispositional hearing, which totaled 26 days.

“Based thereon, we affirm the juvenile court’s adjudication of Children as CHINS,” May concluded.

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