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In re The Termination of The Parent-Child Relationship of L.S.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 21, 2019

In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: L.S. (Minor Child),
The Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner and A.S. (Mother), Appellant-Respondent,

          Appeal from the Union Circuit Court No. 81C01-1802-JT-13. The Honorable Mathew R. Cox, Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant Adam G. Forrest BBKCC Attorneys Richmond, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana David E. Corey Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          BAKER, JUDGE.

         [¶1] A.S. (Mother) appeals the termination of her parent-child relationship with L.S. (Child), arguing that the trial court erred by admitting certain evidence and that the evidence was insufficient. Finding no reversible error and the evidence sufficient, we affirm.


         [¶2] Child was born on October 28, 2015, with drugs in her system.[1] The following day, the Department of Child Services (DCS) filed a petition alleging Child to be a Child in Need of Services (CHINS). On October 30, 2015, Mother admitted to the allegations in the CHINS petition, including Mother's use of illicit substances, Child experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to Mother's use of illicit substances, and Mother's uncertainty about the identity of Child's father. At the time of the hearing, Child was in the hospital, and the juvenile court ordered relative placement upon Child's release from the hospital. The juvenile court found Child to be a CHINS.

         [¶3] At the December 22, 2015, dispositional hearing, the juvenile court ordered Mother to participate with certain services, including contacting the Family Case Manager (FCM) weekly; completing a parenting assessment and complying with any recommendations; completing a substance abuse assessment and complying with any recommendations; submitting to random drug screens; attending all scheduled visits with Child; and completing a detoxification treatment program and an inpatient treatment program and complying with all recommendations.

         Mother's Drug Use

         [¶4] The FCM, who was assigned to this case in August 2016, testified that during her involvement in this case, Mother did not have a single clean drug screen. On December 15, 2015, Mother tested positive for cocaine and benzodiazepines. On January 7, 2016, Mother admitted to recently using cocaine. On January 10, 2016, when Mother went to Harbor Light Center, she admitted that she had used cocaine that day. On March 8, 2016, Mother was ordered to take a drug screen; she refused and left court before a screen could be administered. She refused to meet with the FCM for testing and did not return phone calls to set up tests.

         [¶5] At the December 13, 2016, review hearing, there was evidence that during the review period, Mother had not appeared for other scheduled or random drug screens. During the hearing, she was ordered to take a drug test, but she failed to do so. Mother tested positive for cocaine on March 14 and June 13, 2017. On September 19, 2017, she refused to submit to a drug screen. A drug-testing service suspended its services due to Mother's non-compliance.

         Mother's Participation with Services and Visits

         [¶6] In October 2015, Mother was referred for detoxification services at Harbor Light. On January 10, 2016, Mother went there for an assessment and detoxification. She completed the detoxification, but left the facility on January 19, 2016, before completing in-patient treatment. She failed to notify DCS that she left. At Mother's request, she was referred to Meridian Health Services. She completed her substance abuse assessment there but did not comply with the recommended intensive outpatient treatment, attending three out of twelve sessions in August 2016. Meridian eventually discontinued services, partly because Mother missed appointments and partly because Meridian learned that Mother was living in Ohio, and Meridian would not offer services there. In June or July 2017, DCS offered Mother services through Community Mental Health Center (CMHC), which was closer to Mother's location in Ohio; Mother cancelled three scheduled appointments, and as a result, CMHC would not schedule additional meetings with Mother.

         [¶7] Mother did not maintain regular contact with the FCM, making supervised visits with Child difficult to schedule. She visited Child in June 2016. At the March 14, 2017, review hearing, there was evidence that Mother had not contacted the FCM since the previous review hearing on December 13, 2016. Mother did not attend the Child and Family Team Meeting scheduled for March 3, 2017. A hearing took place on April 25, 2017, during which Mother's visits with Child were suspended; Mother had not visited Child during the reporting period before this suspension of visits.

         Termination Proceedings

         [¶8] On February 15, 2018, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship. The factfinding hearing took place on May 2 and June 5, 2018. At the hearing, evidence was presented that Child does not know Mother, that Child is bonded to her maternal aunt and other family members, and that her caregivers have provided her permanency and stability. The FCM testified that in her opinion, termination is in Child's best interest.

         [¶9] During the factfinding hearing, DCS offered Exhibits Sixteen and Seventeen into evidence. Each exhibit was an affidavit of Bridget Lemberg, the laboratory director of Forensic Fluids Laboratories, Inc. In the affidavits, Lemberg detailed the laboratory's procedures and stated that the procedures were followed for Mother's drug tests; the results of Mother's drug tests from August 31 and October 12, 2016, and May 3, 2017, were attached to the affidavits. Mother objected to the admission of these exhibits, arguing that the test results appeared to be unreliable and that the forensic lab technician was not there to testify. The State argued that the drug test results could be admitted because they met the requirements of the business records exception to the rule against hearsay.

         [¶10] The juvenile court stated:

. . . The Court will take the matter under advisement but will proceed as if they are admitted into evidence. So any subsequent testimony regarding drug screens will be allowed. If I determine that they are not admissible, then that . . . testimony will be stricken from the record. If I determine they are admissible, then the evidence submitted, uh, for their testimony will be admitted. Okay?

Tr. Vol. III p. 34.

         [¶11] On November 2, 2018, the trial court issued an order terminating the parent- child relationship. The order included the following findings of fact:

19. On or about August 31, 2016, October 12, 2016, and May 3, 2017, Mother submitted to drug screens, and the results were positive for cocaine.
21. Mother did not complete services through Meridian, and around January 2017 Meridian ended services for Mother ...

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