Limits of Intervention in CHINS cases — In re S.D.

In the Matter of S.D., alleged to be a child in need of services, J.B. v. Indiana State Department of Child Services, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. February 12, 2014), details a case during which five children were initially alleged to children in need of services when the CHINS petition was filed, including S.D. in particular who had significant medical needs.  Prior to the factfinding hearing, the mother voluntarily remedied all of the issues identified in the CHINS petition except one.   The mother’s methods “were at times fitful or idiosyncratic – bit it worked.”  Four of the children were returned to the home prior to the factfinding hearing.  The evidence failed to show that the mother would not resolve the final issue of completing medical training to care for S.D., nor that she was unwilling or unable without the court’s intervention.  Thus, the trial court’s judgment that S.D. was a CHINS was reversed.

An allegation of under I.C. 31-34-1-1 requires that: (1) the child’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the parent’s actions or inactions, (2) that the child has needs that are not being met, and (3) that the child’s need for care, treatment, or rehabilitation is unlikely to be met with out the court’s intervention.  This final prong requires an inability to meet the child’s needs and not just a “difficulty in meeting a child’s needs.”  Lake County Division of Family & Children Services. v. Charlton, 631 N.E.2d 526, 528 (Ind.Ct.App. 1994).

Finally, these two opening paragraphs are so great — setting the purpose and limits of DCS and juvenile court intervention — that they are included for your reading pleasure:

“Child in need of services (CHINS) cases aim to help families in crisis—to protect children, not punish parents. Our focus, then, is on the best interests of the child and whether the child needs help that the parent will not be willing or able to provide—not whether the parent is somehow “guilty” or “deserves” a CHINS adjudication. But that help comes not by invitation, but compulsion—imposing the court’s “coercive intervention” into family life. And a CHINS adjudication may have long-lasting collateral consequences for the family. The intrusion of a CHINS judgment, then, must be reserved for families who cannot meet those needs without coercion—not those who merely have difficulty doing so.

Here, the evidence reflects that Mother had difficulty meeting the demands of a situation that would test the mettle of any parent—but not that she would be unable to correct her one lingering issue without the “coercive intervention of the court.” DCS’s desire to help this struggling family was understandable, but the facts simply do not justify subjecting this family to State compulsion.”

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One Response to Limits of Intervention in CHINS cases — In re S.D.

  1. Bruce Andis says:

    Yes, Kaarin, the opening two paragraphs are great. So are the last two substantive paragraphs before the mootness discussion:

    “Yet we believe that any reasonable view of those facts must also account for Mother’s larger situation—an impoverished single mother of five, who was forced to abruptly uproot and relocate to a new city to tend to her toddler’s life-threatening illness, while continuing to provide for her other children. Either the relocation or the medical crisis, standing alone, would seriously strain any parent. Yet even though some of Mother’s decisions were questionable, we cannot say that she was less effective under duress than any other similarly situated parent of a special-needs child—and we are unwilling to say that every special-needs child of a low-income parent is necessarily ‘in need of services.’

    “Rather, Mother’s most significant failure—to complete the home-care simulation—appears as much a product of DCS’s intervention as it is a sign of her need for that intervention. Mother’s initial plan had been for Grandmother to serve as the secondary caregiver, and it was only because of DCS’s disapproval that Mother had to go ‘back to the drawing board’ to recruit someone else to fill that role. She did not do so until a few days before the fact-finding hearing, but did so neverthe-less. In sum, she was still one step away from S.D. returning home—but only one step, and one in which the delay was at least partly a matter of DCS’s own doing.”

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