The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the termination of a father’s parental rights to his daughter on Tuesday after concluding his criminal activity posed a threat to her well-being.
In Termination: J W v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 19A-JT-01298, father J.W. appealed the involuntary termination of his parental rights after the Cass Circuit Court concluded his continued criminal lifestyle and use of illegal drugs posed a threat to his minor daughter’s well-being.
G.F., 11 years old at the time of the termination hearing, had lived with her mother for only 10 months before being placed under legal guardianship of her grandmother for the majority of her young life. She was adjudicated as a child in need of services in 2016 after living with her mother again for a short period, after which she was placed in foster care. Paternity was not established for G.F.’s father until the end of 2017.
The trial court concluded that even though G.F.’s father was “essentially robbed of nearly a decade of chances to get to know his child,” J.W.’s continued criminal activity left a reasonable probability that a continuation of his parent-child relationship would pose a threat to G.F.’s well-being. It further found termination of J.W.’s parental rights was in the child’s best interests, citing her need for stability and permanency given her history of neglect from her biological parents.
A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the termination, declining to accept J.W.’s argument that a continued parent-child relationship posed a threat to G.F’s well-being because there were no findings indicating that he “posed a menace to do bodily harm” to her. The appellate court additionally noted that his habitual pattern of criminal conduct — receiving felony charges in five separate causes 15 months before the termination hearing — was highly relevant in determining whether the continuation of the parent-child relationship posed a threat to G.F.
“As the trial court recognized, Father was robbed of the chance to develop a relationship with Child during her first almost ten years of life. When given a chance to be a father to Child, a parent that she desperately needed, Father failed her. After a suicide attempt by overdosing on heroin in Maryland, followed by rehab, he returned to Indiana and quickly turned to abusing methamphetamine and criminal behavior, resulting in him being unavailable to visit Child, let alone parent her in any stable manner,” the appellate court wrote.
“DCS presented ample evidence to establish that Father engaged in destructive and dangerous behavior due to his drug abuse and criminal propensity, that the behavior was ongoing without any serious sign of improvement, and that the behavior posed a threat to Child,” the panel wrote. “Accordingly, the trial court could readily conclude that there was a reasonable probability that the continuation of the parent-child relationship poses a threat to the well-being of Child.”