Parental rights termination affirmed by COA following mother’s continued drug use

The termination of a Vanderburgh County mother’s parental rights to her minor child was based on sufficient evidence and did not violate her rights to due process, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

The Indiana Department of Child Services tried to get involved in a child neglect case by filing a Child in Need of Services petition after K.S.’s child, H.S., tested positive for methamphetamine at his birth in April 2019.

When the family couldn’t be located, however, the case was closed.

But seven months later, DCS found the family and filed a new petition alleging the mother’s other child, C.S., was a CHINS. K.S. and her husband had been using methamphetamine and neither C.S. nor his brother had received adequate medical care.

C.S. was ultimately removed from the home and declared a CHINS while K.S. was charged with six counts of Level 6 felony neglect. The mother was ordered to engage in various services, including a mental health and substance abuse evaluation, random drug screens, parenting education class, and visitation services, while also remaining sober from drugs and alcohol.

However, K.S. was only consistent in her visitations, according to her DCS case manager. Although she participated in multiple in-patient and out-patient treatment programs, K.S. relapsed repeatedly, which sometimes constituted violations of her bond in the criminal case and resulted in jail time.

Additional concerns included the mother’s tardiness to termination hearings, eviction from her home, risk of domestic violence between the parents and her allegedly unstable employment.

The Vanderburgh Superior Court terminated Mother’s parental rights and found that route to be in the child’s best interests, which the Court of Appeals affirmed in In the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: C.S. (Minor Child), and K.S. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 21A-JT-2916.

The appellate court found no support in either of K.S.’s claims that the trial court violated her right to due process when it took judicial notice of a court appointed special advocate’s report or that the evidence was insufficient to support termination. It began by noting that though cross-examination did not occur regarding the CASA, K.S. made no assertion that the trial court denied her the opportunity.

“Mother could have called the CASA to testify at her final hearing date more than a month later, but she did not. Based on Mother’s own recounting, admission of the CASA report was not a due process violation, but a strategic choice she now regrets,” Judge Leanna Wiessmann wrote for the COA.

As for sufficient evidence, K.S. argued on appeal that DCS failed to establish the conditions resulting in removal, rendering it impossible to determine whether they were likely to be remedied. She claimed that DCS didn’t introduce documents from the underlying CHINS case, nor did the trial court ever explicitly take judicial notice of the underlying CHINS case.

“Mother argues that without this evidence, DCS could not show there is a reasonable probability that conditions leading to removal will not be remedied. In this opinion, we have avoided recounting findings that appeared to rely solely on the unadmitted CHINS record. But even without these records, the remaining evidence is sufficient to support termination,” Weissmann wrote.

The COA added that K.S.’s drug use was the reason for continued placement outside the home and that there was also sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding that continuation of the parent-child relationship posed a threat to C.S.’s well-being, particularly his exposure to domestic violence.

Finally, the court concluded that the totality of the evidence support termination of the mother’s parental rights.

However, in a footnote, the COA noted that DCS’s failure to present evidence of the underlying CHINS proceedings imposed a strict limitation on review of the trial court’s order.

“Though the remaining evidence outside of the CHINS record supported the termination order, this might not be true in the next case,” the COA cautioned.

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