T.L. v. Ind. Dep't of Child Servs. (In re T.B.), 22A-JT-296

Citation22A-JT-296
Case DateSeptember 15, 2022
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

In the Matter of: T.B. and A.L., (Minor Children), and T.L. (Mother) and R.B. (Father), Appellants-Respondents,
v.

Indiana Department of Child Services, Appellee-Petitioner

No. 22A-JT-296

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 15, 2022


Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.

Appeal from the Elkhart Circuit Court The Honorable Elizabeth A. Bellin, Magistrate The Honorable Michael A. Christofeno, Judge Trial Court Cause Nos. 20C01-2107-JT-23, 20C01-2107-JT-24

Attorney for Appellants

Nancy A. McCaslin McCaslin & McCaslin Elkhart, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee

Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana

Natalie F. Weiss Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

MEMORANDUM DECISION

ROBB, JUDGE

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Case Summary and Issue

[¶1] T.L. ("Mother") and R.B. ("Father") (collectively, "Parents") are the biological parents of two children, A. and T. (collectively, "Children"). Children were removed from Parents' care by the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS") in 2019 and adjudicated to be Children in Need of Services ("CHINS") in early 2020. In 2022, the juvenile court terminated Parents' parental rights to Children. Parents now appeal, raising one issue for our review: whether DCS proved by clear and convincing evidence that Parents' parental rights should be terminated. Concluding the termination order is supported by clear and convincing evidence, we affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] DCS became involved with the family in November 2019 after Mother dropped Children off with their paternal grandfather for a weekend and then could not be found when grandfather tried to return Children to her as planned. Mother could not be reached for approximately two weeks. In a petition filed in December, DCS alleged Children were CHINS due to abandonment, poor hygiene, reports that Mother had been using methamphetamine, and the fact that Father was incarcerated at the time. Children were adjudicated CHINS in January 2020 and placed in foster care, and Parents were ordered to participate in reunification services.

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[¶3] Progress reports throughout the CHINS case showed Father was not participating in any services, including visitation, even during periods when he was not incarcerated. Mother was participating in supervised visits with Children, which generally went well, but not completing other court-ordered services. She was inconsistent in complying with drug screens and had some positive screens, one of which led to her incarceration for a probation violation; failed to follow through on treatment after completing a substance abuse assessment; and was inconsistent in participating in home-based case work intended to help her deal with housing and transportation issues. DCS filed a petition seeking to involuntarily terminate Parents' parental rights on July 29, 2021, and an evidentiary hearing was held in January 2022.

[¶4] At the evidentiary hearing, DCS offered evidence that Mother was not in compliance with the case plan, which included a clinical assessment, drug and alcohol assessment, supervised visits, home-based case management services, and individual therapy. Mother did complete a substance abuse assessment in June 2021 but did not complete the intensive out-patient group program recommended by the assessment after three tries. She was not compliant with drug screens, as she failed a drug screen that led to her incarceration for two months for a probation violation, tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamine in the last screen she submitted for DCS in August 2021, and failed to appear for the last requested screen in December. Mother was also not participating in individual therapy, attending only the initial session and failing to return thereafter. Mother was "pretty compliant" with scheduled

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supervised visits with Children and the visits had increased in length over time, although they did not progress to partially supervised or unsupervised visits. Transcript, Volume II at 166. However, Mother came prepared for visits and there was a bond between Mother and Children. The family consultant who supervised visits also drove Mother to the visits and did case work with her on the drive. Prior to that arrangement, Mother was not consistent in participating in home-based case work. Even with that arrangement, the consultant felt more time each week was needed to make progress on Mother's housing and transportation goals. Mother offered evidence that she had been regularly employed, although she was temporarily laid off at the time of the hearing, and that she had been recently evicted from her house but was on a waiting list for Section 8 housing.

[¶5] DCS also offered evidence that Father was not in compliance with the case plan. He did participate in a DNA test to confirm his paternity of Children. But he did not participate in any services including supervised visits, partly due to his incarceration and partly due to his failure to maintain contact with DCS when he was not incarcerated. Father had only seen Children once, several years before these proceedings. At the October 2020 permanency hearing, Father indicated that he was likely to go back to prison in January for at least ten years and did not want "to pop into [Children's] lives just to be ripped out of it again" and he would just "like to see them cared for." Id. at 61-62. But at the evidentiary hearing in January 2022, Father testified that there was a possibility he could be released in a few months. He acknowledged he did not

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have a relationship with Children and did not have a background of caring for them but said he would have a home and a job upon his release and could most certainly care for them if he had some guidance. "If given the opportunity to be there, yes, I would like to be there." Id. at 155. Father also advocated for Mother, stating that "she has it in her to be a terrific mom." Id.

[¶6] Both Children have special needs. T. is autistic and attends a special school and therapies. A. has behavioral issues that are treated with medication management and therapy. The DCS family case manager had concerns that Parents would not be able to attend to those needs because "they're very difficult" and Parents "have a hard enough time taking care of their [own] wellbeing to be able to take care of the kids' wellbeing." Id. at 171-72. Neither child's special needs were being addressed prior to removal from Mother's care.

[¶7] The DCS family case manager and the court appointed special advocate ("CASA") for Children both testified they believed it was in the best interest of Children for parental rights to be terminated. At the conclusion of the hearing, the juvenile court stated its conclusions from the bench and terminated Parents' parental rights, issuing a written order later that provides, in pertinent part:

(B) There is a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in the children's removal will not be remedied, and a continuation of the parent child relationship poses a threat to the well-being of the children.
1. While Mother has been consistent with the one day a week supervised visitation with her children, she has done
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little to avail herself of the services or opportunities offered to her.
2. When looking at Mother's pattern of conduct at the time of the termination, there has been [a] pattern of non-compliance with services offered.
3. At the time of the termination hearing, neither parent can provide adequate housing for the children.
4. Despite having periods of time after the filing of the CHINS petition when Father was not incarcerated, he did not engage in any services to assist with reunification.
5. While Mother did establish a bond with both children, she is not stable enough to address the difficult
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