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.”