Parents with physical, mental, legal troubles lose appeal of CHINS ruling

A mother who was twice banned from the hospitals where her son was being treated and a father who was found passed out and drunk on the lawn of their temporary housing failed in their challenge to the adjudication of the severely ill son as a child in need of services.

In December 2016, mother L.R. gave birth to To.R., who has Down syndrome and suffers from respiratory failure, acute kidney failure and cardiac issues. After spending a month in the IU Health Methodist Hospital, To.R. was transferred to Riley Hospital for Children, where he is on a ventilator and a feeding tube. To.R. was born with marijuana and methadone in his system, but according to the Indiana Court of Appeals, it’s unclear what action, if any, came from the subsequent investigation.

In February 2020, the Indiana Department of Child Services received a report that L.R. was frequently arguing with medical personnel and had removed To.R.’s ventilator tubing, among other interferences with hospital staff. In a conversation with a family case manager, L.R. said she knew more about what was best for her child than the medical staff. But L.R. also admitted to suffering from mental illness, so she and the child’s father, Th.R., agreed to a safety plan requiring them to comply with doctors’ orders.

But less than a month later, the parents went out drinking and got into an argument. Th.R. was later found passed out on the lawn of the Ronald McDonald House where they had been staying, but the couple was eventually kicked out.

Meanwhile, DCS investigated a report that L.R. was still arguing with the medical staff and had once again touched To.R.’s medical equipment. Thus, DCS filed a petition alleging To.R. was a CHINS.

While the CHINS case was pending, L.R. was banned from the Riley campus. To.R. was moved to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital, but L.R. was once banned from that campus, as well. The Marion Superior Court eventually granted DCS’ request to place the child at Camelot Care, a long-term care facility in Logansport.

Then in September 2020, L.R. was charged with three misdemeanors related to an incident in Fulton County. It was later discovered that she had a warrant out for her arrest in Lake County.

After multiple continuances, the trial court held a bifurcated fact-finding hearing in late 2020 and early 2021. To.R. was adjudicated as a CHINS in February.

In March, Th.R. moved to transfer the CHINS case to St. Joseph County. The court issued a dispositional order on March 3 ordering the parents to participate in services, then granted the motion to transfer on March 4.

The parents appealed the CHINS adjudication, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in In the Matter of To.R. (Child in Need of Services), Th.R. (Father), and L.R. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, and Child Advocates, Inc., 21A-JC-409.

On appeal, Th.R. specifically challenged the findings that neither parents had engaged in services, nor had they participated in the necessary training to meet To.R.’s medical needs.

But “(a)s the trial court’s other unchallenged findings indicate, Parents did not have stable housing, both had significant mental and physical medical issues, and they had been thus far uncooperative with DCS service providers,” COA Judge Melissa May wrote in a Monday opinion. “While it is true that Father had not been properly trained to care for Child upon his release, any error in assigning fault to Father for his failure to do so was harmless, as other circumstances prevented child from leaving Camelot.”

The COA also rejected Th.R.’s argument that the trial court erred by considering his disability as a reason not to allow To.R. to be placed with him. Th.R. has only one arm and one leg.

“… (T)he trial court made multiple findings regarding Father’s inability to care for Child that are entirely unrelated to his disability,” May wrote. “… As there were other significant factors that supported the trial court’s decision to adjudicate Child a CHINS, we conclude the trial court did not ‘solely’ base its decision on Father’s disability and thus did not violate Indiana Code section 31-10-2-3.”

Both Th.R. and L.R. argued court intervention was not necessary because To.R.’s needs were met by medical providers who wouldn’t release the child to his parents “without proper safety protocols.”

“However, Parents’ argument ignores the fact that those medical providers are not responsible for addressing Parents’ underlying issues, which have thus far prevented Child from being placed in their care,” May wrote. “Those underlying issues include chronic housing issues, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, criminal activity, mental health issues, and physical health issues.

“Parents both analogize the facts of their case to other cases in which we have reversed CHINS adjudications,” she wrote, “but all of those cases are distinguishable.”

Lastly, Th.R. argued the trial court erred by granting his motion to transfer the case to St. Joseph County only after entering its dispositional order. But at the time the motion was filed, To.R. was housed in Cass County, so the motion was not proper under I.C. 31-32-7-3.

“Accordingly,” May concluded, “the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it waited three days to transfer the case after it entered the dispositional order.”

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