Parents who fail to obtain assistance for kids labeled by the state as “children in need of services” can be charged with neglect by the Department of Child Services. But a recent Indiana Court of Appeals ruling says parents who have attempted to gain services for their children should be protected from neglect charges.
In a case involving the parent of a teenager with emotional challenges, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that because the parent tried to access services for her child, she could not be charged with neglect. That ruling could prove to be important in other neglect cases around the state, especially those involving children with mental illnesses.
Teresa Hatten of the Indiana branch of the National Association of Mental Illness says many parents of disabled children are frustrated to find long waitlists for programs that fit their kids’ needs—and sometimes no programs at all.
“What we’re saying is—and what everybody knows is—the family didn’t neglect these children. They’re begging for help. Since they’re begging for help, that’s not neglect,” Hatten says.
That waiting game is only one roadblock to obtaining services. IU law professor Jody Madeira says the ruling shows judges are aware that well-meaning parents often have trouble accessing and also paying for the services they are supposed to be administering to their children.
“Basically the parent has to be making a good faith effort,” she says. “And of course for parents with insurance, that changes matters, because they can go to private providers. If individuals don’t have insurance that may complicate matters because the only provider of services might be the state and the state has its own timetables.”
For example, parents might have to wait for a series of psychiatric evaluations and tests before enrolling their children in special treatment programs—a process that can take months.