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In re Ma.H.

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 31, 2019

In the MATTER OF MA.H., Le.H., Lo.H., W.H., La.H., Me.H., and S.W. (Minor Children); M.H. (Father) and R.H. (Mother), Appellants (Respondents)
Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee (Petitioner)

         Argued: June 18, 2019

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Appeal from the Wells Circuit Court, Nos. 90C01-1707-JT-22, -29, -30, -31, -32, -34, -35, The Honorable Kenton W. Kiracofe, Judge

         ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT M.H.: Yvonne M. Spillers, Fort Wayne, Indiana

         ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT R.H.: Mark Small, Indianapolis, Indiana

         ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana, Stephen R. Creason, Chief Counsel, Katherine A. Cornelius, Robert J. Henke, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana

          On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 18A-JT-1296

         Rush, Chief Justice.

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          Civil child welfare proceedings often implicate a parent in criminal activity. In such cases, the trial court needs to strike a delicate balance: it must safeguard children’s well-being, while protecting parents’ constitutional rights.

          Here, a mother and a father appeal the termination of parental rights to seven children, arguing that the trial court violated the father’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. After a court found that the father sexually abused his stepdaughter, he was required to select and complete a sex-offender treatment program. He briefly attended a program but stopped when it required an admission of wrongdoing. The father has always denied the sexual abuse, and the mother has likewise never believed her daughter.

          We find no constitutional violation. The trial court’s order did not require the father to admit to a crime at the risk of losing his parental rights. And because the parents failed to address the sexual abuse allegations— several of which a court found were true— we find sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s termination decision and affirm.

          Facts and Procedural History

         M.H. (Father) and R.H. (Mother) have a blended, Amish family of nine children. Seven of the children were born during their marriage; the oldest two, S.W. and R.W., are Mother’s daughters from a prior relationship.[1]

          In early spring 2016, seventeen-year-old R.W. abruptly left home. About a week later, the Department of Child Services (DCS) received a report alleging that Father had sexually abused R.W. for years and that the condition of Parents’ home was unacceptable. Parents denied both allegations; but after a detective interviewed R.W., DCS removed the remaining children from the home. They were placed with their maternal uncle and his family, who are also part of the Amish community.

          DCS alleged the children were in need of services (CHINS) based on the Parents’ actions. At the hearing, DCS provided testimony on the home’s deplorable condition, and R.W. testified to numerous and specific instances of sexual abuse by Father. The court found the children to be CHINS, noting that R.W.’s testimony was credible and that most of the allegations in DCS’s petition were true.

          As a result, Parents were ordered to complete services, including ones to address sexual abuse. Specifically, Father had to complete sex-offender treatment; and Parents were required to create a safety plan to protect the children from future abuse.

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          Father objected to the sex-offender treatment. He was concerned that completing such a program would involve a polygraph examination, which he argued would require him to waive his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The trial court disagreed. In its order, the court explained that Father could refuse to answer questions during treatment, but that if Father chose to remain silent, then the court could "infer what his answer[s] might have been."

          About a month later, Father began sex-offender treatment. But because of his continued denial, little progress was made. So, the therapist recommended a polygraph test to show that Father had done nothing wrong— "to help things move forward." Father took the polygraph, and the results showed he was "deceptive" when asked about the sexual abuse.

          At that point, the therapist could not continue the program with Father unless he admitted wrongdoing. Father refused and stopped attending. During this time, Mother never wavered in her support of Father or in her belief that R.W. lied about the sexual abuse. Thus, Father ...

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