Parents lose any right to their relationship with a child or children nearly every day in Indiana, and this is via two procedures, a Child in Need of Services (“ChINS”) action, and, after six (6) months or 15 of the most recent 22 months, an action to terminate parental rights. (“TPR”).
Indiana’s Department of Child Services (“DCS”) “leads the state’s responses to allegations of child abuse and neglect and facilitates child support payments. We consider the needs and values of all we serve in our efforts to protect children while keeping families together whenever possible.” (in.gov/dcs/2370.htm; last viewed 1/20/21).
While “child” and “children” are mentioned, nowhere on that entire web page is mention made of “parent” or “parents.” Children are vulnerable. Sometimes need to be protected from a parent or someone (boy- or girlfriend, step-parent) close to the parent. However:
1) Sometimes against the machinery of the State, in ChINS and TPR actions, parents need to be protected. A parent’s interest in upbringing of her child is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by the courts. Traxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000).
2) In our flawed system, a child can enter “the system” as a ChINS, re-enter the system years later as a parent of a ChINS, and perhaps years beyond that be involved a third time as a grand parent of a ChINS.
3) If DCS goals are so important as to be stated on its website, parents’ mention should be more than an afterthought (“keeping families together”) similar to the change of the theme song of “Gilligan’s Island” from “and the rest” to “the Professor and Mary Anne.”
We need to change more than verbiage in the system. Judges’ hands are tied: TPR petitions, by Federal law, must be filed if a child has been removed from a parent’s home for 15 of the most recent 22 months.
Also the burden of proof for DCS in ChINS actions is lesser (preponderance of evidence. I.C. 31-34-12-3, i.e., more likely than not) than in TPR (clear and convincing evidence. I.C. 31-34-12-2). Yet the files of the earlier ChINS actions are exhibits in the TPR.
If reading about ChINS and TPR actions confuses you, think of how confused a parent is whose child has been removed from the home. Also, please realize that, for a lot of parents, mention of “DCS” sparks fear - especially if a parent herself or himself was a ChINS.
This is an area of law of which many are unaware. The proceedings themselves are confidential. Lincoln said, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” It is beyond the time at which we should discuss TPR/ChINS statutes and figure how to try and fix the system.