COA reverses termination of mother’s parental rights

A trial court erred in terminating a mother’s parental rights to her two minor children, finding the potential of the children’s reunification with their father and their continuing bond with their mom made the termination of their relationship with their mother not in their best interests.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a TPR ruling in a case that began four years ago in Delaware County when the mother and children were living in Muncie, and continued after mother moved to Lafayette to be closer to her children, B.F. and C.F. The children had been relocated there after they were removed from mother’s home by the Department of Child Services, who filed a children in need of services petition and placed the children with a family friend

The CHINS case began after mother overdosed on drugs, but as time progressed, she participated more in services, gained employment, stayed clean and remained connected and bonded with her children. But housing, long-term employment, health issues, transportation and other factors remained hurdles to reunification. And after mother was notified she would be evicted from her apartment provided by Seeds of Hope, the children were removed from her care and custody and termination proceedings followed.

After a four-day hearing in April, the Delaware Circuit Court found termination was in the children’s best interests.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded that ruling Thursday in In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of B.F. and C.F. (Minor Children), C.B. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 19A-JT-1857.

“The only lingering issue for Mother is a lack of stable and suitable housing,” Judge John Baker wrote for the panel. “She and the Children are bonded and her parenting skills are appropriate. Moreover, the trial court denied the petition to terminate the parental rights of the Children’s father, meaning that terminating Mother’s rights will not achieve permanency for the Children. Under these circumstances, we find that termination is not in the Children’s best interests.”

“In this case, DCS explicitly concedes that ‘[t]here are other ways the court could have potentially structured or set out the plan of care for Child[ren] given that it did not terminate Father’s rights’ and that ‘there may be less restrictive means than termination … ’,” Baker wrote. “If there are ‘other ways’ the Children’s well-being can be assured and ‘less restrictive means’ of achieving that than terminating their relationship with their mother, then the judicial system is obligated to explore those options before arriving at the last resort of termination.

“Even though Mother was not in a place at the time of the termination hearing where she was able to be a safe and appropriate caregiver for the Children, we simply cannot conclude that termination is in their best interests so long as reunification with Father is an option. There is no reason whatsoever that Mother cannot continue to spend time with her Children while they are in kinship care or, if they are reunified with Father, once they are in his care,” the panel held. “Obviously, if the situation reaches a point where reunification with Father is no longer an option and permanency for the Children can be achieved, the analysis would change. But at this point, it is not in their best interests to impose the most extreme measure possible when there are less restrictive options available.”

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