Much of the time, reports of abuse or neglect to Indiana’s Department of Child Services are well-meaning. A teacher, physician, clergyperson, concerned relative or someone else might call in a tip that they suspect a child’s welfare is at stake. Other times, however, allegations are totally unfounded and made for a malicious purpose such as to gain an advantage in a custody proceeding.
When DCS receives a report that a child may be in danger of abuse or neglect, they will open an investigation. Regardless of the reasons behind the initial allegations, if you have been put on notice that DCS is investigating your family, you need to protect yourself and your children.
A Child In Need of Services
A DCS investigation might find that a child is a Child In Need of Services (CHINS). According to Indiana Code §31-34-1-1, a child is considered a CHINS if he or she is under the age of 18, his or her physical or mental condition is “seriously impaired or seriously endangered” because of a parent’s, guardian’s or custodian’s failure to provide necessities (such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc.) and:
- The parent/guardian/custodian is financially able to do so, or
- The parent/guardian/custodian refuses to ask for financial or other assistance, and
- The child is not receiving necessary care, or
- The child is not likely to receive such necessary care without the intervention of the court
It’s important to note at the outset that just because a child is a CHINS does not necessarily mean that the parents will lose their parental rights, but it is a possibility.
Further action leading up to termination
Termination of parental rights is a last resort for DCS and for Indiana’s family courts. This doesn’t mean that complacency is the right course of action in the face of a DCS investigation, however. These cases do come up every day in courts across the state.
It’s only after the parents are given the opportunity to correct deficiencies in the child’s care that termination cases move forward. The Office of Family and Children (OFC) must prove one of the following by “clear and convincing evidence”:
- The child lived apart from his or her parents for at least 6 months pursuant to a “dispositional decree,”
- Efforts toward family reunification are not necessary under Indiana Code § 31-34-21-5.6,
- The child was out of the home for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months.
The OFC must also prove all of the following to terminate parental rights:
- The well-being of the child is threatened by the continuation of the parent-child relationship or the conditions that led to the child’s removal have not and will not be corrected.
- Termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.
- A “satisfactory plan” exists to care for the child.
This post only touches on the bare minimum that parents should understand about the termination process. It is a complicated course of action, and it can be both confusing and overwhelming for families involved in it.
You have the right to an attorney to represent you before DCS and the court, and you are strongly encouraged to have one at your side throughout the proceedings.