Parents may find themselves in a difficult situation if they are facing accusations of abuse or neglect. The investigation and legal process that follows can be confusing. In these cases, a child may be determined to be a Child in Need of Services (CHINS). If you have come under investigation by the Child Protective Services (CPS), you need to hire an Indianapolis CHINS lawyer immediately to ensure that you can keep custody of your child.
What Is a Child in Need of Services?
According to Indiana Code § 31-34, a Child in Need of Services (CHINS) is a person under the age of 18 subjected to the following types of abuse or neglect:
- The parents are unable or unwilling to provide the child with necessary food, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision
- The parents commit acts or omissions that result in actual or a risk of harm to the child physical or mental health
- The parents manufactured illegal drugs on the property where the child lives
- The child has been a victim or risks being a victim of crimes such as rape, criminal deviate conduct, exploitation, molestation, public indecency, prostitution, voyeurism, seduction, or sexual misconduct with a minor
- The parents allowed or put the child at risk of engaging in an obscene performance or sex offense
- The child is a danger to his or herself or to others, and the child is not receiving care or treatment
- The child has been disciplined at school because of his or her misbehavior and the parents have not been cooperative
- The child is a missing child
- The child is disabled and has been or risks being deprived of necessary nutrition or medical care
- The child has been born with fetal alcohol syndrome or with the presence of drugs in his or her system
- The child’s mother used alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, which caused the child’s physical or mental health problems
How Do Child Protective Services Investigations Proceed?
According to Indiana Code 31-33-5, anyone who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect must make a report to either law enforcement or the county’s child protective services, unless that person has reason to believe that a report has already been made. A failure to meet this duty can result in criminal charges. Thus, people may be motivated to over-report child instances of supposed abuse out of fear of facing criminal charges.
In other cases, the allegations of child abuse may be motivated by the reporting person’s ill will towards the alleged perpetrator. For example, a person might seek to ruin another person’s life, or one parent may attempt to get sole custody of a child, by making allegations of child abuse against an innocent person. The problem is that the law assumes that the person making the report is doing so in good faith.
For these reasons, having an experienced Indianapolis CHINS lawyer by your side as you defend against accusations of child abuse is crucial. Your Marion County attorney will be able to help you refute false accusations, and can represent your interests during the complicated and stressful process of investigations and custody hearings.
Child protective services will begin their investigation within 1 hour or 5 days of the report of abuse or neglect—depending on the severity of the allegations. Investigators may visit the child’s home to observe and speak with the allegedly endangered child, but parents do have a right to refuse entry into the home. The investigator may also request that the child be submitted to physical, psychological, or psychiatric evaluation. An Indiana child protection attorney may be hired by parents to help them through the process.
What Happens After the CPS Investigation in Indiana?
If the investigator concludes that the allegations of child abuse or neglect against you are unsubstantiated, there will be no adverse action taken against you and the report will be expunged from the child abuse registry. If, however, the investigator concludes that the allegations were true, any of the following may occur:
- The CPS and the parents enter into a Service Referral Agreement — The parents voluntarily agree to attend family or rehabilitative services, after which the CPS investigator will close the case.
- The juvenile court authorizes a Program for Informal Adjustment — The parents retain custody of the child, but have to participate in family and rehabilitative services. The difference here is that a failure to comply will result in the parents being charged with contempt of court.
- The Department of Child Services requests the juvenile court to rule that the child is a CHINS — Sometimes, this petition may request the immediate removal of the child from the parents’ custody as well.
Where a child is determined to be at immediate and severe risk, Child Protective Services may seize the child without a hearing or court order. In such cases, the parents will have the opportunity to attend a detention hearing, which must take place within 48 hours of the child’s removal. To obtain the release of their child, the parents and their lawyer that fights CPS cases in Indiana must demonstrate that continued detention is not necessary to protect the child, and that the parents are able and willing to take custody of the child.
What Happens if CPS Requests a Court to Declare Your Child a CHINS?
During the initial hearing, the judge will explain to you what findings of abuse or neglect led to the opening of the CHINS litigation. Should the child be placed in a rehabilitative or treatment program, the court may at this time order the parents to pay the costs.
If you choose to deny the allegations against you, the court will schedule a fact-finding hearing within 60 days of the initial hearing. During the fact-finding hearing, the judge will hear evidence and testimony from the CPS investigator and the child’s family and parents. Based on the evidence and testimony he or she hears, the judge will decide whether or not your child is in fact a CHINS.
There are several key differences between a fact-finding hearing and a criminal hearing in Indiana, because the child’s parents have less procedural protections than a criminal defendant. For example:
- The authorities need only to prove the child is a CHINS by a preponderance of the evidence, instead of beyond a reasonable doubt
- If the child was injured in a manner that does not normally occur without an act or omission by a parent, the court will presume the child is a CHINS
- There is no privilege to refuse to testify against a spouse, or for a doctor to refuse to testify based on the patient-physician relationship
If you admit to the allegations, or if the judge concludes that the allegations are true after a fact-finding hearing, the court will schedule a dispositional hearing. After considering the facts and circumstances of the case, the judge may order any of the following:
- Removal of the child from your home and, ideally, placement with a blood or adoptive relative
- No contact between the child and the parents or any other abusive person
- The parents obtaining stable employment, and/or completing individual or family counseling, psychological or parental assessments, parenting classes, drug or alcohol abuse treatment programs, or anger management classes
- The parents’ reimbursement of the Department of Child Services’ expenses in caring for the child
It’s important to obtain the help of a lawyer who fights CPS cases in Indiana. The CPS investigation and hearing process can be complex, and they are not looking out for your rights. Hessler Law, PC can develop a strong defense on your behalf and fight for you at a CPS hearing.
What’s Next After a CHINS Determination?
Every six months following the CHINS hearing, the court must review the case to determine whether the case plan, the child’s placement, and the services attended by the parents are meeting the child’s needs. The judge will largely base his or her conclusions off of the CPS caseworker’s progress report. At the conclusion of the review hearing, the court may state a projected date for the child’s return to his or her home.
In cases where the parents do not follow the orders issued by the court at the dispositional hearing, the Department of Child Services may request a hearing to terminate the parents’ rights entirely. To succeed, the Department of Child Services must prove all of the following by clear and convincing evidence:
- The child has been separated from the parent for more than 6 months by court order
- The court previously found that family preservation or reunification is not required, or the child has been separated from the parent for more than 15 of the preceding 22 months
- The conditions that led to the child’s removal have not been fixed, or the relationship between the parent and the child puts the child’s well-being at risk
- Terminating the parent’s rights is in the best interest of the child
- There is a satisfactory plan for the child’s treatment and care
How a Indianapolis CHINS Lawyer Can Help
Not only are the stakes high when facing a child abuse or neglect investigation, the ensuing legal procedures put parents at a significant disadvantage in proving their innocence. For this reason, the services of a skilled and reliable Marion County attorney are essential at every stage of the CPS investigation or CHINS litigation process. At Hessler Law, we’ve built our reputation on providing aggressive and effective representation for every client who comes through our door.