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What Happens During a CHINS Case?

A children in need of services (CHINS) case has several types of hearings during the course of the case. The purpose of this post is to provide a brief description for each type of hearing. As will become evident, when parents are involved in this type of case, they will be in the courtroom frequently, along with many other people, to determine the care and custody of the child.

A detention hearing is the first hearing when the Department of Child Services has requested to file a petition alleging that a child in need of services. The detention hearing is to take place within forty-eight (48) hours of the child’s removal from its parents. The purpose of the detention hearing is to decide whether DCS has probable cause to file the petition. If the court decides that DCS has probable cause to file the petition alleging that the child is need of services, then DCS may place the child somewhere other than with the parents.

A factfinding hearing is usually the next hearing in a children in need of services case. At this hearing the court decided the question whether the child actually meets the statutory definition of a child in need of services. The difference between this hearing and the detention hearing is mainly the burden of proof. Whereas the detention hearing only requires probable cause (a very low standard) to keep a child in the custody of DCS, DCS must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt (the same standard used for criminal jury trials). If the court decides that DCS has not met its burden, the case is dismissed.

If the court decides that the child is in need of services, the next hearing is typically the dispositional hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to decide what outcomes need to be reached for the court to dismiss the case. In other words, the court will decide what goals the parents and children must meet so that the care and safety of the child may be ensured in the future. The duration of the case, in large part, is dependent upon how quickly parents and children can reach these dispositional goals.

After the dispositional hearing, the court will hold review hearings on a periodic basis. Sometimes the review hearings may be scheduled every three months. The Indiana Code requires that the review hearings take place at least once every six (6) months. For each of these hearings, DCS will submit a written report to the court concerning the progress of the parents and child. The court appointed special advocate (CASA) may also submit a report concerning the case. These review hearings are a great opportunity for the court to hear the concerns of parents, especially if parents do not believe their DCS caseworkers or other service providers are not treating the parents fairly.

The last type of hearing is a permanency hearing. At this very important hearing, the court decides whether the future permanency plan for the child should remain reunification with parents. The court may decide that a guardianship or adoption is more appropriate for the child. Obviously, the stakes are great when a permanency hearing is on the docket. It is important that the court fully understands each party's situation so that the court may make the best decision possible for the child.