Broadly speaking, a relationship is simply the way two individual people associate with one another. Relationships come in all types and form between all kinds of people. They can be professional, friendly, romantic, or just between family members. The parent-child relationship stands out as one of the most widespread and important kinds of relationships in our society, and one of the most fundamental relationships found in nature. The vast majority of people have some sort of relationship with at least one of their parents, even if it isn’t always a pleasant one.
When something is so important, why would the government ever try and take someone’s children away from them? Unfortunately, some people do things that call their fitness to be parents into question. Too often, children are victims of abuse or neglect by the very people who are supposed to protect them from such harm. Such children are known as “children in need of services” (CHINS). CHINS also include children who are: (i) living in a house where illegal drugs are being manufactured; (ii) missing; (iii) victims of a sex offense; (iv) a danger to themselves or others; (v) born with disorders as a result of a mother’s drinking or drug use during pregnancy; and (vi) repeatedly disruptive in school when parents don’t participate in disciplinary proceedings.
To protect these children, the government can exercise its parens patriae power and remove a child from his or her home. This may only be a temporary action, but the government can also try and terminate the legal relationship between the parent and child. Doing so ends the parent’s responsibilities to care for and provide for the child, but it also ends the parent’s right to see their child.
Because the parent-child relationship is so important, judges don’t let the government take children from their parents easily. The right to raise one’s children is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, and parents have due process rights when the government does try to terminate the parent-child relationship. Parental rights can never be terminated simply because there is a better home available to the children, but may be where the parent is unable or unwilling to meet their responsibilities.
Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that two parents’ due process rights were violated when the Department of Child Services attempted to terminate their parental relationship with their children. In In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of C.M.S.T., T.M., & M.M. (Children) and A.S. (Mother) and R.T. (Father); A.S. (Mother) and R.T. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, the court found that there were sufficient procedural irregularities in the case to deprive the parents of their due process rights. This was an extreme case: one case worker for DCS filed a false report about the father, and another case worker began a sexual relationship with the father while working on the case. Both case workers were fired before the case went to trial, but it highlights the very real possibility that a parent can be denied due process in the termination of their relationship with their children.
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