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In re A.Q.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 18, 2018

In the Matter of: A.Q., K.Q., and R.Q. (Minor Children), R.O. (Mother) and C.Q. (Father), Appellants-Respondents,
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the Lawrence Circuit Court The Honorable Andrea K. McCord, Judge The Honorable John M. Plummer III, Referee Trial Court Cause Nos. 47C01-1501-JC-030 47C01-1501-JC-031 47C01-1506-JC-239

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT R.O. (MOTHER) Nicole A. Zelin Pritzke & Davis, LLP Greenfield, Indiana ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT C.Q. (FATHER) Linda Klain Law Office of Linda B. Klain, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General Robert J. Henke Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana


         Case Summary

         [¶1] In children in need of services (CHINS) cases, the Department of Child Services (DCS) sometimes proposes changes to the trial court regarding the permanency plan for the children. At the start of the CHINS case, the permanency plan typically calls for reunification of the children with their parents. As the CHINS case proceeds, however, DCS may recommend a number of changes to the plan, including termination of the parents' rights. We determine that when the trial court approves DCS's proposal to change a permanency plan from reunification to termination in a CHINS case, the decision is generally not suitable for interlocutory appeal, particularly where, as here, reunification services are not terminated, because parents are unable to prove actual harm by the change in the permanency plan. Rather, the parents are only able to show the potential for future harm-termination of their parental rights.

         [¶2] In the matter before us, R.O. ("Mother") and C.Q. ("Father") bring their interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court's order approving changes in the permanency plans in their children's CHINS cases from reunification to termination. This Court's motions panel accepted jurisdiction of the interlocutory appeal, and the parties fully briefed the case. Accordingly, we address the merits of the parents' claims. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Mother and Father are a non-traditional couple; Father is seventy-nine years old, and Mother is twenty-seven years old. They have a long history with DCS that dates back to 2006. At that time, DCS substantiated a claim of sexual misconduct with a minor against Father; Mother, who was fifteen years old at the time, was the victim. Since then, however, Mother and Father have continued their relationship and have three children together: A.Q., K.Q., and R.Q., born in 2010, 2012, and 2015, respectively.

         [¶4] In 2013, DCS substantiated claims of neglect of A.Q. and K.Q. against both Mother and Father due to a domestic-violence incident between the parents. Two months later, A.Q. and K.Q. both presented with injuries, and DCS again substantiated claims of neglect against Mother and Father. A.Q. had several physical injuries, some of which were over a year old, and K.Q. had a knot on the back of her head. Tr. Vol. VII pp. 82, 86. A.Q. and K.Q. were removed from the home and later adjudicated CHINS. Mother and Father engaged in services with DCS, and the children were ultimately returned to their care.

         [¶5] Less than two years later, DCS received an allegation that A.Q. had been physically abused. A.Q. "had several marks and bruises on her, " including a bruise about "1 ½ inches in diameter on her chin that was purple." Id. at 7. DCS responded the same day and went to Mother and Father's house to speak with them and A.Q. Upon seeing the "almost black" bruise on A.Q.'s chin and other bruises on her head, DCS told Mother and Father to take A.Q. to the hospital. Id. Photographs of the bruises were taken and sent to a doctor at Riley Hospital for Children. Based on the photographs and A.Q.'s medical records, the doctor concluded that A.Q. was injured as a result of physical abuse. The doctor told DCS, "To obtain an injury to that degree, there must have been a lot of force behind it ..... [A.Q.] was either propelled to the floor or someone hit her directly under the chin." Id. at 8. The doctor also stated that the other injuries to A.Q.'s head were consistent with A.Q. being grabbed or slapped. Mother and Father both stated that they did not know how A.Q. was injured and that the bruise appeared after A.Q. came home from school. DCS immediately removed A.Q. and K.Q. from the home and placed them with Father's granddaughter ("foster mother"). At the time of removal, Mother was pregnant with R.Q. On January 28, DCS filed CHINS petitions for both A.Q. and K.Q., and three months later, the children were adjudicated CHINS.

         [¶6] Meanwhile, the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department was informed of A.Q.'s injuries and launched a criminal investigation. In March 2015, Mother was charged with Level 5 felony battery of a child less than fourteen years old. The criminal court issued a no-contact order for Mother and A.Q.

         [¶7] A dispositional hearing in the CHINS cases was held in June 2015. Six days later, Mother gave birth to R.Q. Because of the CHINS adjudications for A.Q. and K.Q., DCS removed R.Q. from Mother and Father's care while still in the hospital. R.Q. was also placed with foster mother, and DCS filed a CHINS petition for R.Q. On September 8, the court entered its dispositional order in A.Q. and K.Q.'s CHINS cases. Mother and Father were ordered, in part, to maintain weekly contact with the Family Case Manager (FCM), keep all appointments with service providers, engage in home-based counseling, and have supervised visits with A.Q. and K.Q. The permanency plan for A.Q. and K.Q. was reunification with Mother and Father.

         [¶8] Around the same time as the dispositional order, A.Q. disclosed that Father had sexually abused her, and DCS substantiated the claim. K.Q. also made statements that Mother and Father had abused A.Q., but K.Q.'s disclosures had already been investigated by DCS. DCS moved to cease all parenting time and visitation for both parents and all three children. In January 2016, the court ordered that all parenting time and communication with A.Q. and her parents cease. However, the court ordered that K.Q. and R.Q. should continue to have supervised visitation with Mother ...

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