Girl’s CHINS adjudication will stand after brother’s death, COA rules

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Katie Stancombe for www.theindianalawyer.com

A young girl found to be a child in need of services following the negligent death of her younger brother will remain a CHINS despite her mother’s contention that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the finding, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

Mother A.V.U. lived with her verbally and physically abusive boyfriend and her two minor children, M.G. and K.H., and frequently left them in his care. The children often overheard and witnessed their mother’s boyfriend screaming, belittling and battering of her.

Then, one day after complaining to his mother that his head hurt following an afternoon with her boyfriend, M.G. died while in the boyfriend’s care. An autopsy revealed MG.’s body sustained severe injuries from “multiple blows and strikes from a closed fist,” as well as “blunt force trauma to his appendix” before his death.

One month prior to M.G.’s death, the Department of Child Services closed had an investigation of alleged abuse against M.G. when he had a black eye and exhibited signs of strangulation.

Following M.G.’s death, K.H. was removed from her mother’s care, DCS filed a CHINS petition and A.V.U. was charged with neglect of a dependent. The Allen Superior Court concluded K.H. was “seriously impaired and endangered” as a result of her mother’s neglect and that she was unlikely to receive care, treatment and rehabilitation without intervention of the court.

Challenging that conclusion on appeal, A.V.U argued K.H. did not observe abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend and that his arrest had resolved the immediate exposure of domestic violence in their home. The mother also claimed both she and K.H. were participating in counseling and that K.H. now lived with her maternal grandparents, who were a major part of A.V.U.’s support group.

However, the appellate court rejected A.V.U.’s arguments in In the Matter of: K.A.H., a Child in Need of Services, and A.V.U. (Mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 18A-JC-1763, finding DCS provided sufficient evidence to prove that needed intervention from the court based on the child’s interviews with DCS, A.V.U.’s significant history with domestic violence and abusive partners and her lack of self-awareness of its impact.

“We are sensitive to the fact that a CHINS finding is not a determination of parental fault; we also appreciate the fact that Mother has been battered in two relationships and has suffered the devastating loss of a child,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the court. “That said, Mother’s contention that Boyfriend’s arrest, following M.G.’s death, eliminated the need for coercive intervention of the trial court is stunning in its lack of self-awareness. We find most disturbing the fact that the postmortem examination of M.G. revealed bruises all over his body in various stages of healing; yet, Mother maintains that she was unaware of the abuse.

“The domestic violence that allegedly resulted in M.G.’s death is not an isolated incident in Mother’s life,” Tavitas continued. “At issue before the trial court was not just reckoning with the aftermath of M.G.’s senseless death, but also with Mother’s inability to protect her children from ongoing domestic violence. We agree with the trial court that, ‘although it is too late for [M.G.], it is not too late to protect’ K.H.”

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