COA affirms TPR for mother of chronically ill son

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A trial court didn’t err when it terminated the parental rights of a mother to her chronically ill son after multiple attempts were made to remedy the situation, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed.

L.S. is the mother of J.S., who was born in February 2018. At the time of his birth, J.S. tested positive for marijuana and the mother admitted that she had smoked while pregnant. In addition, J.S. was born with a volvulus, which is a twisted intestine.

Shortly after his birth, J.S. had surgery to remove 90% of his small intestine. As a result of this surgery, J.S.’s body is unable to break down food and absorb nutrients, a condition known as “short bowel syndrome.” Thus, J.S. will require the administration of total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, for the rest of his life.

About a month after J.S.’s birth, the Department of Child Services received a report that he had been hospitalized with a life-threatening condition. Further, L.S. had recently been incarcerated for possession of marijuana and a separate probation violation, and there was no one available to care for J.S. and his 3-year-old sibling.

Thus, DCS filed a petition alleging J.S. was a child in need of services. In early April 2018, L.S. and DCS entered into an informal adjustment and the CHINS matter was resolved.

A second CHINS petition was later dismissed following the implementation of a safety plan after the mother failed to meet the terms of the informal adjustment. However, shortly after the dismissal of the second CHINS petition in January 2019, DCS received a report that J.S. was living in a home with no electricity and alleged the mother was failing to take the child to medical appointments and provide adequate care. DCS later found out J.S. was with his maternal grandmother, who wasn’t trained to take care of him properly.

A DCS caseworker removed J.S. from the maternal grandmother’s care and took him to the DCS office. L.S. then went to the office and “took off with J.S. and took him to Riley Hospital.” A Riley physician examined J.S. and determined the child was suffering from dehydration, severe diaper rash, low iron levels and granulation around his gastrointestinal tube.

While J.S. was at Riley, DCS obtained a court order to detain him. DCS then removed J.S. from mother’s care and placed him in foster care.

After a third petition was filed, L.S. admitted J.S. was a CHINS in January 2019.

By November 2020, L.S. had successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program and had tested negative on 19 of 20 drug tests. The mother had also demonstrated the ability to administer J.S.’s medication and to complete a sterile dressing change. Based upon her progress, the Johnson Circuit Court authorized the mother to begin unsupervised visits with J.S.

However, less than three weeks later, L.S. twice tested positive for marijuana. DCS filed a motion to return the mother to supervised visitation, which the trial court granted after a hearing.

By early January 2021, L.S. had tested positive for marijuana on 15 different occasions. In addition, her attendance at supervised visits with J.S. had diminished, and “she was less engaged with J.S. during the supervised visits that she attended.”

DCS then filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights.

At the two-day June 2021 hearing on the termination petition, the trial court heard testimony from Dr. Charles Vanderpool, a pediatric gastroenterologist who has been J.S.’s physician since J.S. was an infant. Vanderpool testified that J.S.’s medical condition requires supervised attention, and that marijuana use could make care more difficult.

DCS family case manager Jake Campbell, who had been on the case since June 2020, testified that mother’s sister had indicated that, due to her work schedule, it would be very difficult for her to provide consistent medical care for J.S.  Campbell also testified that during the period of time when L.S. had tested negative for marijuana, she had been extremely engaged in J.S.’s care and had asked thoughtful questions at her son’s doctor’s appointments. However, according to Campbell, when L.S. had tested positive for marijuana, the mother had not been communicative.

Following the hearing, the trial court issued a detailed 38-page order terminating J.S.’s parental relationship with her son.

Upon review, the Court of Appeals of Indiana found the evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that there was a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in J.S.’s removal would not be remedied, and that the termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the child.

The case is In Re: The Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of J.S. (Minor Child); L.S. (Mother), Appellant-Respondent v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 21A-JT-1632.

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