Indiana courts are rarely eager to terminate the rights of faltering biological parents, who often receive numerous opportunities to reform and provide a stable, loving environment.
Termination of parental rights is seen as a last resort option, allowing the child to be either formally adopted by a more stable third party or to be deemed a child in need of service, in order to secure access to public support and services.
Still, parents who face this kind of action must recognize that such decisions, when they are handed down, are final and may forever close the door on an opportunity to establish a relationship with that child. Once appeals are exhausted, there may be no further right of action.
Our Hammond child custody attorneys know that while such proceedings are taken quite seriously, they aren’t particularly rare. The Indiana Court of Appeals, for example, typically takes on at least a handful every month. Those are only the cases that are accepted for review at the appellate level.
One such recent case was that of In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of A.B., which involved the loss of parental rights where both parents suffered from addiction to methamphetamine and domestic violence issues.
According to court records, child was born in March 2004. Three years later, the Department of Child Services took the child into protective custody after both parents tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamine. Soon after, the court held a hearing in which DCS asserted the child should be officially deemed a “child in need of services,” due to the ongoing drug and domestic violence issues in the home.
The court granted the DCS request for this classification of the child, who remained in foster care while parents participated in addiction assessments, drug tests, therapy and psychological evaluations. Parents successfully completed the case plan, and the child was returned to them one year later, and the “child in need of services” case was closed.
Fast forward four years later, the local DCS office received a report of neglect, endangerment and exposure to illegal drug manufacturing with regard to the same child. The family home burned down, and authorities suspected methamphetamine manufacturing was to blame. Child and parents moved in with friends into another suspected “meth house,” and it was asserted the child’s health, hygiene and educational needs were neglected.
When DCS initiated its investigation, parents told them child moved to Georgia to live with paternal grandmother. However, state investigators soon learned grandmother hadn’t seen mother, father or child for two years. DCS workers tried for several weeks to find the trio. Finally, they learned she was enrolled in a local elementary school. Child was pulled out of class, an interview conducted and mother was called to the school, where drug screens were requested. Child tested negative, but mother was positive for both methamphetamine and amphetamine.
A review of child’s school records indicated she was struggling. She was enrolled in four separate kindergartens, had to repeat first grade, was in a special needs class because her reading level was substandard and she had dozens of marks against her for absences and tardiness.
Child was taken into emergency protective custody, and later, at parent’s request, placed with the family of a classmate. Child was again listed as a child in need of services. Parents agreed to complete a program. In the meantime, child was moved to another home. There, she began to thrive emotionally and academically. Foster parents expressed a desire to adopt her, if they were allowed.
Meanwhile, parents reportedly made no progress to reunite with the child. They missed therapy, did not pay child support, did not maintain employment, failed drug screens, and only sporadically attended supervised visitation. They changed their phone number without notifying DCS and were both arrested at least once.
At this point, the agency moved to terminate parental custody. Father responded by calling DCS office and making threats, which resulted in a restraining order. None of this boded well for their efforts to regain custody of the child.
After this, parents began attending parenting classes and were accepted into a substance abuse program. However, the trial court still terminated parental rights.
Parents appealed, but the decision was ultimately affirmed by the appellate court, which found parents’ enrollment in the substance abuse program an “eleventh-hour” attempt, which was ultimately “too little too late.” Their relapse history in the case did not give the court confidence they would achieve long-lasting success in sobriety, and the child’s best interests would be served by remaining in her current living situation.
Anytime a parent loses custody of a child – even temporarily – it is a wrenching experience for all involved. We work with families to help them achieve the best solution. We know the goals of the court and can help guide you through the system with the ultimate goal of reunification.
Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of A.B., Nov. 26, 2014, Indiana Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Carr-MacArthur v. Carr – On Mental Health and Child Custody, Nov. 18, 2014, Hammond Child Custody Lawyer Blog