In the Matter of: N.C. (Minor Child), Child in Need of Services
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner. and J.M. (Father), Appellant-Respondent,
from the Monroe Circuit Court The Honorable Stephen R.
Galvin, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 53C07-1605-JC-308
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Noah T. Williams Monroe Co. Public
Defender Bloomington, Indiana
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General
of Indiana Robert J. Henke Abigail R. Recker Deputy Attorneys
General Indianapolis, Indiana
Summary and Issue
J.M. ("Father") appeals the juvenile court's
finding that his son, N.C., is a child in need of services
("CHINS") and the juvenile court's
corresponding dispositional order giving wardship of N.C. to
the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS")
and ordering Father to comply with the terms of a Parent
Participation Plan. Father raises two issues for our review,
of which we find the following dispositive: whether the
juvenile court erred in finding N.C. to be a CHINS.
Concluding DCS did not prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that the coercive intervention of the court was
necessary to ensure N.C. 's care and therefore the
juvenile court clearly erred in adjudicating N.C. a CHINS, we
and Procedural History
Father and M.C. ("Mother") are the parents of N.C.,
who was six years old when these proceedings began. Father
and Mother do not live together. In addition, Mother has
three daughters by three other men: H.M., her oldest, who was
not involved in these proceedings; B.C., who was fourteen at
the time these proceedings began; and K.T., who was eleven.
B.C., K.T., and N.C. were all in Mother's primary
On April 27 and 28, 2016, DCS received reports indicating
Mother was using methamphetamine while caring for her
children. Stephanie Clephane, a Monroe County DCS family case
manager, spoke with each of the children at school on April
28 and eventually connected with Mother by phone. Mother
admitted using methamphetamine in the recent past but refused
to meet with Clephane without a court order. Because of
Mother's admission, DCS arranged for the children to
begin staying with Mother's sister as of April 28. In the
ensuing days, Mother had multiple contacts with law
enforcement after reporting her house was bugged, making
suicidal threats, and complaining her sister would not return
the children to her.
On May 5, 2016, the juvenile court authorized the filing of a
CHINS petition for all three children. The petition, filed
the same day, alleged the children were CHINS because Mother
admitted to recently using methamphetamine and refused to
submit to requests for a drug screen; Mother was suicidal and
admitted to a hospital for treatment; one of the children
reported there was domestic violence in the home between
Mother and her boyfriend; one of the children reported she
believes Mother is using drugs because of her sudden weight
loss and odd behavior; Mother refused to cooperate with DCS;
and Mother has a history with DCS. The petition also named
the children's fathers and noted they are each
Father and Mother had a prior case in Monroe Circuit Court
concerning support and custody issues regarding N.C.
April 29, 2016, Father filed a petition to modify custody
with the Circuit Court, alleging N.C. 's living situation
was harmful to him and DCS had indicated it was going to take
action. The Circuit Court held a hearing on June 30, 2016, at
which Father, Mother, and DCS appeared. Mother did not object
to Father being awarded temporary custody of N.C. but
objected to a final custody determination before the CHINS
fact-finding hearing was completed. The Circuit Court noted
N.C. was the subject of a CHINS proceeding and that the
juvenile court and DCS had both approved placement of N.C.
with Father. The Circuit Court found the evidence supported
granting Father temporary custody, but "because the
parents are not in agreement, and there is a conflict in the
testimony regarding the consistency of Father's parenting
time . . . and Mother's alleged drug use or negligent
care of [ N.C. ], " the court did not make a permanent
change of custody at that time. Appellant's Appendix,
Volume II at 90. Instead, "either parent may file a copy
of the juvenile court CHINS order . . . and request a hearing
if the CHINS case is dismissed [at the fact-finding hearing]
for failure to prove or parties are discharged at a later
date because the dispositional goals are achieved[, ]"
and the court would then hold a hearing on either
parent's request. Id. at 92.
At the CHINS fact-finding hearing on September 1, 2016, the
only testimony related to Father was that N.C. had been
placed with him pursuant to the Circuit Court order for
approximately two months, that DCS had visited Father's
home the night before the fact-finding hearing and the visit
went very well and everything looked appropriate, and that
there were no allegations against Father. The juvenile court
found that all three children were CHINS, concluding:
Given the ongoing domestic violence and substance abuse in
the family home, the negative impact of the domestic violence
on the children, [Mother's] history of neglect of her
children, and [Mother's] unwillingness to participate in
services, the coercive intervention of the court is clearly
necessary to protect the health and safety of the children.
Id. at 34. The only reference to Father in the
juvenile court's findings is that Father is the
noncustodial father of N.C.
The juvenile court held a dispositional hearing on September
27, 2016. Lindsey McDonald, the case manager, testified as
follows when questioned by Father's attorney:
Q: How long has [ N.C. ] been placed [with Father]?
A: I don't remember the exact date but it's been a
couple of months - a few months now.
Q: Has there been a single issue with [Father] and [ N.C. ]
or [ N.C. 's] safety?
Q: Has [Father] refused to do a single thin[g] you've