Random drug screen requirement reversed for mom in CHINS case

A mother found driving intoxicated with her three minor children in the car lost her appeal of a determination that they are children in need of services, but won a reversal of a requirement that she submit to random drug screens as part of her parental participation order.

When police pulled over R.S.’s vehicle after responding to a report of a fight at a gas station, her blood alcohol level tested at 0.105. The mother admitted she had been drinking but said she thought she would be under the legal limit.

R.S. was then arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and the Department of Child Services filed petitions alleging her children were CHINS. The children were placed in foster care and found to be underweight and dirty, among other concerns.

The Marion Superior Court determined the children were CHINS and issued a parental participation order requiring R.S. to, among other requirements, submit to random drug and alcohol screens. The mother appealed, arguing the trial court erred in ordering her to participate in allegedly unnecessary services by submitting to random drug screens.

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals panel agreed with R.S.’s argument regarding the drug screen in its memorandum decision in In the Matter of Ra.S., Roy.S., and Rod.S. (Minor Children), Children in Need of Services, and R.S. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 19A-JC-396, finding that requirement was an abuse of discretion because R.S. had no a history of abusing illegal drugs.

“Even with transportation assistance from DCS, random drug screens impose significant burdens on a parent; such burdens should not be imposed based on mere speculation that the parent is abusing and may ‘start switching’ substances,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the majority joined by Judge Cale Bradford. “Consequently, we reverse the trial court’s participation order and remand with instructions to vacate the random drug screen requirement unless evidence has been presented in subsequent hearings that would support imposing such a requirement.”

But the CHINS adjudication was not overturned, and the Court of Appeals rejected R.S.’s argument that she had been denied due process. Specifically, the COA said “it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude that the care, treatment, or rehabilitation needed by the Children was unlikely to be provided or accepted without coercive court intervention,” while the mother failed to prove her attorney was ineffective.

In a partially concurring and dissenting opinion, Judge Elizabeth Tavitas agreed with the majority that the children were properly found to be CHINS, but disagreed that their mother should not have to submit to random drug screens.

“Here, Mother argues there is no evidence of a substance abuse history, but DCS presented evidence of an alcohol issue given Mother’s conviction for operating while intoxicated with the Children in the vehicle,” Tavitas wrote. “The trial court’s order was related to circumstances revealed by the evidence. Although perhaps some trial courts would have ordered the proposed RADAR monitor rather than random drug/alcohol testing, I do not believe that the order for random drug/alcohol testing was an abuse of discretion.”

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