Children in Need of Services (CHINS)
When the Department of Child Services (DCS) is involved with a family, it can be an extremely stressful time for the children, the parents, and other family members. The system and the statutes governing it are complicated, and obtaining private legal counsel can help to provide piece of mind.
When a report of child abuse or neglect is made via the statewide hotline at 1 (800) 800-5556, a determination is made regarding whether that allegation will be investigated. If it is to be investigated, the local office of the Department of Child Services (DCS) will perform the investigation, and determine whether to substantiate abuse or neglect. In general, any time that someone has reason to believe that a child is a victim of abuse or neglect, that person must report his or her suspicion. If abuse or neglect is substantiated, DCS may take one of several actions. First, DCS may ask the parents to sign an Informal Adjustment. An Informal Adjustment does not involve a child being determined by a court to be a Child in Need of Services (CHINS), but it does require the parents to take certain action and/or to refrain from certain action. Informal adjustments may require parents to participate in services like parent education, therapy, drug or alcohol treatment, or psychological evaluation; and may require parents to refrain for example, from using corporal punishment on the child or children.
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If abuse or neglect is substantiated or if an Informal Adjustment is not successful in resolving the issue, DCS may alternatively file a petition alleging that the child is a Child in Need of Services (CHINS). CHINS proceedings are governed by Indiana Code 31-34-1-1 et seq. The statutes detail all of the possible bases for determining that a child is CHINS.
At the initial hearing in the CHINS case, the parents will be asked to admit or deny the allegations of the CHINS petition. When a parent denies the allegations, a fact-finding hearing is set by the court. At the fact-finding hearing, the judge determines whether to adjudicate the child as a CHINS. DCS’s policy is generally to encourage reunification of children with their parents, and to provide services to enable reunification to happen wherever possible.
In CHINS proceedings, a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) should be appointed for the child. However, this appointment is not always made right away, as CASA volunteers are in high demand, and there are generally wait lists for the appointment of a CASA.
If, as a result of the fact-finding hearing, the court finds that the child is a CHINS, a dispositional hearing will be set. Prior to the dispositional hearing, DCS and the CASA will file reports that contain recommendations for actions that the parents will need to take (or refrain from taking) and services that will need to be provided. After the hearing, an order will be issued, and it is extremely important for the parents to comply with the terms of that order. After the order is issued, the court will hold periodic review and permanency hearings, at intervals called for by the CHINS statutes.
A child may be determined to be a CHINS, but in some cases, may be permitted to remain at home with his or her parents. Such a case is referred to as an in-home CHINS. The DCS may, in the alternative, cause a child believed to be the victim of abuse or neglect to be removed from the parents. If this occurs, the law requires that a hearing, called a detention hearing, must be held promptly. Detention may occur at the beginning of a CHINS case, or at any point during the proceedings if circumstances warrant removal of the child.
If the circumstances leading to the determination that the child is a CHINS are remedied, the CHINS case will be discharged, and the child reunited with the parents, with no further DCS involvement.
However, after a period of time and under certain circumstances, a decision is sometimes made to pursue termination of parental rights, rather than reunification. DCS may file a petition to terminate parental rights, thus initiating what is commonly known as “TPR” proceedings, under the following circumstances:
(A) One of the following must be true:
(i) The child has been removed from the parent for at least six (6) months under a dispositional decree.
(ii) A court has entered a finding under IC 31-34-21-5.6 that reasonable efforts for family preservation or reunification are not required, including a description of the court's finding, the date of the finding, and the manner in which the finding was made.
(iii) The child has been removed from the parent and has been under the supervision of a county office of family and children or probation department for at least fifteen (15) months of the most recent twenty-two (22) months, beginning with the date the child is removed from the home as a result of the child being alleged to be a child in need of services or a delinquent child;
(B) In addition to one of the above factors, one of the following must be true:
(i) There is a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in the child's removal or the reasons for placement outside the home of the parents will not be remedied.
(ii) There is a reasonable probability that the continuation of the parent-child relationship poses a threat to the well-being of the child.
(iii) The child has, on two (2) separate occasions, been adjudicated a child in need of services;
See Indiana Code § 31-35-2-4. (It should be noted that parents who have been convicted of certain crimes may also face termination of their parental rights under a different statutory scheme).
Termination must also be in the best interests of the child, and there must be a satisfactory plan for the care and treatment of the child. A CASA will be appointed to represent the child’s interests in TPR cases. If the court, at the conclusion of a trial, determines that the allegations contained in the TPR petition are true, the parent or parents’ parental rights will be terminated.
A parent facing termination of his or her parental rights may also consent to the termination. By voluntarily terminating parental rights, a parent may sometimes be able to obtain an agreement for some kind of continued, limited contact with the child, after rights are terminated and the child is adopted by another family. Such agreements are called Post-Adoption Contact Agreements and are only available if the parent consents to the adoption or voluntarily terminates parental rights. (Link to adoption page of our site).
Nicholas Adams Law Office represents not only parents accused of abuse or neglect, but also family members and others, such as foster parents, with an interest in the children. If you are involved in CHINS or TPR proceedings and would like assistance navigating the maze of statutory and agency requirements, please call to schedule a consultation.