Yes. But as of Monday, July 31, 2018 so can certain advocates and attorneys for your children. This comes by a sweeping decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals applying the statutory authority for this power (or standing) created by the Legislature. This blog surveys when and why DCS may seek to sever a parent-child relationship and addresses who else the Legislature empowered to do so by a new application of the law.
After the Department of Child Services (DCS) brings a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) case, and the court finds a legal basis for the children being CHINS, due to neglect or abuse by the parent(s), normally the case ends with the parent(s) being reunified with their child(ren) after they are assisted in parenting skills by services offered to them by DCS; a guardianship in a third party (this may be a relative); or termination of the parent’s parental rights (TPR)—if they are legally unfit parents and unable to be rehabilitated through services offered to them by DCS within a certain time.
The termination of a parent’s rights is extreme and severs his or her fundamental constitutional right to raise his/her child as they see fit. The child(ren) are then wards of the State and may be adopted. So, it’s a big deal.
The DCS acts for the State to protect children. However, the children often have their own advocate a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), to see to it their best interests are protected during the CHINS process. In some sense and for comparison, DCS is like the prosecutor in a criminal case, with the GAL or CASA the child’s attorney. DCS, in conjunction with a recommendation of a GAL or CASA, may file a TPR in cases where the parents are not responsive to services and are unfit to care for their children. If TPR is granted, the CHINS case closes because it is the end of the parent-child relationship for the parents who created the CHINS. Because of the severe consequences to the physical and mental health of the parents and children, DCS is provided with significant resources to handle CHINS cases—to make this tough decision—for TPR with all necessary information and resources.
It probably makes sense to you that only a very limited class of people or institutions, like DCS, have authority to bring a TPR case. All Hoosiers presumably want to be assured that not just anyone can bring this type of action against a parent. Now that has all changed. In a case of first impression (the first of its kind), the Indiana Court of Appeals decided this week that DCS statutory authority, created by the Legislature to seek to terminate a parent’s rights, also includes a GAL or CASA.
In TPR of Z.B.,1 decided on Monday, July 31, 2018, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided a case with sweeping implications that are the reason behind this blog post; it ruled that the Legislature’s statutory mechanism for TPR, allows GALs or CASAs (who may be individuals or part of an agency) to oppose DCS’ position and seek termination on their own. In this case, the CASA filed a petition for TPR of mother to her child. DCS, who filed for the CHINS then moved to dismiss the CASA’s petition, arguing that the CASA’s filing effectively had the child litigating or fighting against his or her parents. Ironically, both DCS and a GAL/CASA act to protect the child’s best interests.
This case may be reviewed and reversed by the Indiana Supreme Court. However, today the range of individuals/entities that may seek to terminate a parent’s rights—your rights to your children—is much larger. As a parent and/or voter, you should understand the implications of this case. It is no secret that many parents are caught in the new opioid crises and otherwise unable to parent, but do you agree? Will this change lead to more TPR filings? What are your concerns as a parent? A voter? Know the law to protect your rights and be an engaged citizen (and parent) on a topic as precious as our children.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. The firm handles domestic cases of all types for parents, including domestic (and all other) appeals and trials of domestic cases, which sometimes may “change” the law by applying it in a new way for the first time in a case. An appeal protects your right to have any final decision reviewed by a higher court to provide every citizen with due process and a right to be heard. This blog is written for general educational purposes—to aid you as a citizen in being engaged in our Indiana community. This blog is not intended to provide legal advice or be a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.