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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today, re CHINS

In In the Matter of S.D., Alleged to be a Child in Need of Services, J.B. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, a 10-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rush writes:

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. We therefore reverse the trial court. * * *

S.D. and her siblings were legitimately in need of services when DCS filed its petitions. But by the fact-finding hearing, Mother had voluntarily addressed all but one of those concerns to the trial court’s satisfaction. In view of that judgment, the remaining evidence fails to show that Mother was likely to need the court’s coercive intervention to complete that final item—and when that coercion is not necessary, the State may not intrude into a family’s life. We therefore reverse the trial court’s judgment that S.D. was a child in need of services.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 12, 2014 12:20 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions