As discussed last week, a child in need of services (CHINS) case arises when it becomes essential that a court get involved in a child’s care. The mere existence of a court case involving the child is disruptive to a family’s normal activities. But a CHINS case involves much more than going to court. This is because so many various people are involved in a single CHINS case. Since it is a child’s well being at issue, the stakes are high, and so having several people involved in a case is important. But at the same time, each involved person has his/her own opinion. Consequently, the CHINS case can become quite complex.
Of course, the parents are involved in the CHINS case. Sometimes, a father and mother are together, and they can work together to “get back on their feet”. Other times, the father and mother are not together. When this happens, sometimes a custody battle may emerge out of the CHINS case.
Attorneys are involved in CHINS cases. Each parent is entitled to legal representation during a CHINS case. If a parent is destitute, the court may appoint an attorney to represent him/her. It is important to have representation to understand a parent’s current situation and assist in articulating issues to the court.
The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) is involved in CHINS cases. DCS has its own attorneys and caseworkers. The DCS attorneys are responsible for filing the verified petition that a child is in need of services and other subsequent motions and progress reports. The DCS caseworkers are responsible for assisting the parent’s and child’s progress toward their goals.
Service providers are also involved in the CHINS case. These people offer services to the parents and children. The types of services run the gamut. The services may include substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, home-based case management, etc. Often it is the practice of DCS to determine what the needs of the family are and then to refer services to meet the needs of the family.
A judge is involved in a CHINS case. A judge will be the decision-maker throughout the case. The judge will determine whether a child is in need of services, what dispositional goals must be met for the case to close, and whether those goals have been met. The judge will read various court filings to make these determinations.
A court-appointed special advocate (CASA) is involved in a CHINS case. Usually, there is a county director of the CASA program who will be at almost all of the CHINS hearings. For most CHINS cases, CASA will have a volunteer to assess how a child is doing and to make his/her own report to the court. CASA is important because CASA serves like somewhat of a neutral party in a CHINS case.
All of the above people are involved in any given CHINS matter. Obviously, with so many various people involved, there can be a multitude of opinions about what is best for a child. Given the multitude of opinions, it is important that all parties cooperate with one another to do what is best for the child, and when parties reach an impasse, the parties need to advocate for their positions before the court and have the court make an informed decision.