Children who have been identified as having suffered from maltreatment or neglect may be found by the Court to be Children in need of services (C.H.I.N.S). The specific statutory criteria for the procedure and basis for a CHINS determination may be found in Indiana Code 31- 34.
The Preliminary Inquiry
Following an investigation, the Department of Child Services may file a Preliminary Inquiry report with the court. The court will hold a hearing to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the child meets one or more of the statutory definitions of a Child in Need of Services. If the court finds probable cause it may authorize the Department to file a petition or to proceed with an Informal Adjustment.
An Informal Adjustment is an agreement between the child’s parents and the Department, approved by the court, to participate in referred services and programs designed to assist the family in correcting the issues that brought the family to the court’s attention. An Informal Adjustment may last for six months and may be renewed with court approval for an additional three months. If the parents and family cooperate and benefit from services offered through an informal adjustment, the case will be closed.
Initial Hearing and Facilitation
In some instances the issues facing the family require greater court involvement. In those cases the Court will authorize the Department to file a petition and an Initial Hearing will be held. At the Initial Hearing, the Court will advise the parties of their rights, determine whether to appoint the parents a public defender and will appoint a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA Volunteer) or Guardian ad Litem for the child. The appointment of a Guardian ad Litem or CASA Volunteer is required by law. A CASA or Guardian ad Litem represents the child’s best interests in the court proceedings. In Allen County the Initial Hearing will be continued for an Additional Initial Hearing so that Facilitation (mediation) may be conducted. The use of Facilitation is the primary feature of Allen County’s COURT IMPROVEMENT PROJECT funded by the Indiana Supreme Court
The Department, the parent(s) and attorneys, the CASA representative and/or the child’s Guardian ad Litem along with family members selected by the parent(s) gather in a conference room to facilitate(mediate ) the allegations of the petition filed alleging the child to be a child in need in services. In addition, the issues regarding the child’s placement, visitation, and the services to be provided to the family will be discussed. Agreements will be reported to the Court following the facilitation. However, the discussions had during the facilitation remain confidential by court rule.
If there is not an agreement, the case will be set for a trial (Factfinding). The Department of Child Services has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence that the child meets one of the definitions for a Child in Need of Services. If the Court adjudicates the child after a Factfinding, then a Dispositional hearing will be held. If not, the case will be dismissed.
If there is sufficient basis from the parties’ agreements reported form the facilitation to find the child(ren) to be a Child in Need of Services or if the child is found to be a CHINS following a Factfinding hearing, the Court will enter order of adjudication and a Dispositional Decree detailing the child’s placement and the services ordered for the family will be entered.
By federal and state law a CHINS case must be reviewed by the Court every six (6) months and a Permanency Plan must be entered every 12 months.