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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court reverses involuntary termination case where mother denied counsel at CHINS proceeding

In In re the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of G.P., a Minor Child, and His Mother, J.A. v. Indiana Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, Inc., an 18-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:

We have always said that a parent’s due process rights are vital during court proceedings aimed at determining whether the parent’s child is a Child in Need of Services. Here, a mother waived her right to counsel at an initial CHINS hearing and her son was found to be a CHINS. At a subsequent CHINS review hearing, the mother requested counsel and the trial court found that she was indigent and entitled to representation—but it failed to actually follow through and appoint an attorney to her case.

After additional CHINS hearings at which the mother remained unrepresented, the Department of Child Services filed an action to involuntarily terminate the mother’s parental rights with respect to her son. At the mother’s request, the trial court appointed counsel to represent her during the TPR process. But even with representation at this stage, her parental rights were terminated and her son has since been adopted by his paternal grandparents. We now assess the impact of the failure to appoint counsel for the mother during the CHINS process. * * *

Conclusion. J.A. was denied her statutory right to counsel during the course of the CHINS proceedings below and those proceedings flowed directly into an action to terminate her parental rights and (in a separate action) adopt out her child. We therefore vacate the trial court judgment terminating her parental rights.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 13, 2014 02:55 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions