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In re M.W.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 30, 2019

In the Matter of M.W. (Minor Child), A Child In Need of Services, and T.A. (Mother), Appellant-Respondent,
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Marilyn A. Moores, Judge The Honorable Jennifer Hubartt, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 49D09-1804-JC-966

          Attorney for Appellant Danielle L. Gregory Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Frances Barrow Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          BAKER, JUDGE.

         [¶1] The sum total of the allegations in this Child in Need of Services (CHINS) case are as follows: two teenaged sisters got into a physical altercation and their mother sought help from law enforcement to deescalate the situation. One of the sisters appears to have some emotional and/or behavioral problems and the two girls need help to learn how to communicate in a healthier way. The mother has agreed that the family and her children need therapeutic support and has taken steps to enroll the family in those needed services. Without far more compelling evidence than appears in this case, these facts cannot, and do not, support a CHINS adjudication.

         [¶2] T.A. (Mother) appeals the juvenile court's order finding M.W. (Child) to be a CHINS. Mother argues that there is insufficient evidence supporting the CHINS adjudication. We agree, and reverse.

[¶3] FACTS

         Mother has three minor children: Child, L.F. (Sister), and J.A.[1] In 2011-2012, Child's father was kidnapped, remained missing for fifteen months, and found murdered when Child was about eleven years old. Mother sought out grief counseling for Child, who completed the service successfully. In 2017, Mother began individual therapy and was still participating with that service at the time of the CHINS hearing in this case. Mother and her three children live in a clean, furnished, appropriate three-bedroom home in Indianapolis; they had lived there for approximately four years at the time of the CHINS hearing. Mother has part-time employment at a childcare facility; she works part time because a disability prevents her from retaining a full-time job.

         [¶4] Child and Sister have a volatile relationship. Child also has a history of behavioral problems, including marijuana use and suicidal ideations, and has run away from home in the past, though none of these prior incidents led to involvement with the Department of Child Services (DCS). On March 31, 2018, Child and Sister got into an argument that escalated into a physical altercation. Mother separated the girls, sending them to different parts of the house, but Child ran out of her room and into Sister's room, where they began to fight again. J.A. and Mother both tried unsuccessfully to break up the fight. Mother then called the police, seeking help to deescalate the situation.

         [¶5] Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Officer Holly Rapier[2] responded to the dispatch. When Officer Rapier entered the home, Mother said, "'I can't do this anymore, I can't do this anymore.'" Tr. Vol. II p. 35. The officer saw Child, who had scratches on her face, and called an ambulance, which transported her to a hospital. For reasons not revealed at the CHINS hearing, Officer Rapier and another officer on the scene placed Mother in handcuffs and arrested her for domestic battery. The charge was later dismissed.

[¶6] DCS employee Marci Mettler was sent to the home to assess the situation and ensure the children were cared for after Mother was arrested. Mettler removed the children, placing J.A. and Sister in relative care and Child in emergency shelter care.

         [¶7] On April 3, 2018, DCS filed a petition alleging the children to be CHINS.[3] Over the course of the next month, Mother voluntarily participated in multiple child and family team meetings, family therapy, and a parenting assessment, and ensured that Child and Sister began participating in individual therapy. Mother also provided DCS with verification that she was already participating with individual therapy.

         [¶8] On April 30, 2018, J.A. and Sister were returned to Mother's care and custody. Although Mother and Child both repeatedly asked that Child be permitted to return home, Child continued to be placed out of the home.[4]

         [¶9] The CHINS factfinding hearing took place on May 24, 2018. At that ...

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