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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ind. Courts - "Is juvenile system too closed? Some suggest laws meant to protect kids result in too much secrecy."

Yet another story this Sunday in the South Bend Tribune focusing on the Indiana's current juvenile system. The one by Virginia Black, the earlier three this month were by Black and Mary Kate Malone.

This is a lengthy, very powerful report that must be read in full. This is lot of new information in the story on a variety of aspects of the problems with the system. The ILB can provide more information on one section, that reads in part:

In December, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in favor of three Hancock County parents who had appealed a circuit court judge’s termination of their parental rights — while calling into question some DCS actions.

The mother had three children, one with an ex-husband and two with her present husband. The court documents say all three had various issues with instability when the DCS cases began in 2009, including drug use and incarceration.

The appeals court justices reversed the original decision, ruling that the parents had indeed been making progress on their issues and should be allowed more time to be reunited with their children.

But perhaps more notable were the justices’ written opinions of how DCS employees behaved as the case unfolded.

Footnotes throughout point to missing and contradictory facts as the ruling describes the case, in one example referring to “the disturbing possibility that DCS intentionally delayed” a response to a foster home licensing issue.

“We need not resolve today whether DCS technically complied with the law; however,” the court document states, “we wish to emphasize that DCS’s actions were not consistent with its purpose and that we do not condone what happened in this case.” * * *

In an interview last month with The Tribune, DCS’ Payne bristled at a question about whether case managers need more oversight.

“If you’re asking for perfect, I will admit we’re not perfect,” he said. “If you’re asking about the case in Hancock County, I can say we don’t always do the work that is expected. … I suspect there are people who think we’re doing a pretty good job. So why don’t you look those people up?”

Asked about the possibility of the DCS evaluation committee proposed by state Sen. Yoder, Payne referred to the recent creation of the ombudsman’s office, the agency’s frequent filing of reports and data, and the availability of child advocates to provide checks and balances.

“I also find it interesting that at a time when Indiana is considered to be one of the better agencies for child protective services in the country,” he said, “there’s this thought that we need oversight. … It seems to be motivated by something other than whether children are better, because the data is pretty clear. We have more children with fewer dollars and better results. That typically would not indicate you need more oversight.”

The COA opinion in the Hancock County case, filed Dec. 14, 2011, begins with this summary by Judge Crone:
B.G. (“Mother”) has three sons, C.D., H.G., and E.G. C.L.D. is C.D.'s father and Mother's ex-husband. H.H.G. is H.G. and E.G.'s father and Mother's husband. The children were declared children in need of services (“CHINS”) due to Mother's and C.L.D.'s incarceration and H.H.G.'s drug use. Ultimately, all three parents had their rights to the children terminated. The record reflects that the children have a bond with the parents and that the parents have all made progress during the pendency of this case. Although the case manager and court appointed special advocate (“CASA”) testified that the children need permanency, the Department of Child Services (“DCS”) has not identified any potential permanent home for the children, and termination does not appear to contribute anything to the children's sense of stability. Because the parents appear willing to continue cooperating with DCS and working toward reunification and because there is no indication that allowing the parents more time to do so will harm the children, we conclude that DCS failed to show that termination is in the children's best interest. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
See particularly footnote 16, that begins on p. 22, ftnote 19 on p. 30. Ftnote 21 on p. 38:
As a corollary to this argument, DCS asserts that it is under no affirmative obligation to disclose information about the children's placements, arguing that the parents should have conducted discovery and/or subpoenaed the foster parents to testify. Huntsman's last two reports filed before the termination hearing included documentation showing that E.N. and C.N. were considered the adoptive family. DCS left the parents, the court, and the children's CASA with the misleading impression that E.N. and C.N. were in the process of adopting the children, when in reality that placement was in jeopardy due to a licensing complaint. The record in this case also raises the disturbing possibility that DCS intentionally delayed its response to the first licensing complaint in order to leave this misleading impression intact. We note that DCS is legally required to disclose a wide array of information to the court and parties. See Ind. Code ch. 31-35-18 (predispositional reports); Ind. Code § 31-34-21-1 (progress reports must be filed every three months after a dispositional decree is entered and at any other time as ordered by the court); Ind. Code ch. 31-34-22 (requiring progress reports to be filed before certain hearings). These reports might be considered akin to mandatory discovery, and discovery responses must be supplemented when a party “knows that the response though correct when made is no longer true and the circumstances are such that a failure to amend the response is in substance a knowing concealment.” Ind. Trial Rule 26(E)(2)(b). We need not resolve today whether DCS technically complied with the law; however, we wish to emphasize that DCS's actions were not consistent with its purpose and that we do not condone what happened in this case. See Ind. Code § 31-10-2-1 (policy and purposes of Title 31 include, inter alia, strengthening family life, removal of children from families only when in the child's best interest, and ensuring fair judicial procedures that protect rights of parents and children).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 26, 2012 02:42 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts