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Indiana court ruling could affect mentally ill kids

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A recent Indiana Court of Appeals opinion could affect how the state Department of Child Services obtains treatment for some children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.

The agency sometimes substantiates neglect findings against parents who are unable to get care for their children, according to The Times of Munster. Entering the court system as juvenile delinquents or children in need of services is sometimes the only way such kids receive treatment.

But the court last month reversed the decision of a Marion County juvenile court judge who found a woman had neglected her teenage daughter and ordered her to obtain care for the girl. The appeals judges said the woman had already tried to get treatment for her daughter, referred to as V.H. in court documents.

"It is apparent that mother, who is a working single parent, was addressing V.H.'s behavioral issues," Judge John Baker wrote in the appellate court's unanimous opinion. "This is something for which we should applaud parents rather than condemn them through coercive action."

The Indianapolis woman had twice called police after her daughter became physically aggressive, court records say. After the second incident, she refused to pick up the girl, who was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, from an emergency shelter until the girl received counseling services.

Police contacted the DCS, which investigated and then filed a petition claiming that the girl was a child in need of services because her mother hadn't provided the necessary care. The juvenile court judge granted the petition, found the mother in neglect, and ordered her to participate in services and pay the DCS $25 a week.

Attorney Amy Karozos, who represented the mother in the appellate case, said her client did not neglect her daughter, who is now 17. "I would hope (this opinion) would make DCS think about it before bringing a CHINS (children in need of services) case against a family that hasn't neglected their child," she said.

DCS spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said the agency will not change any of its policies relating to children-in-need-of-services cases as a result of the court opinion. She said the agency's attorneys interpreted the ruling as a need for more evidence.

"It looks like DCS tried to help, tried to provide services," McFarland said.

Joel Schumm, a professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said the opinion shows the judges' concern about pursuing children-in-need-of-services proceedings against parents who are trying to help their children.

Schumm said the ruling puts judges in a difficult position because they may have parents before them who desperately need help.

"If DCS cannot pursue CHINS cases, then the child and the family end up in a position where they can't get help that they need," he told The Times.

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