We have granted transfer in this case where a party to a CHINS matter requested a fact-finding hearing and was instead given a contested dispositional hearing. We write to clarify any ambiguity that exists regarding the differences between a CHINS adjudication and the procedural due process safeguards that are in place for parties to a CHINS disposition. We hold that a parent who requests a contested fact-finding hearing has a due process right to that hearing.
“Although the juvenile court has broad discretion in determining what programs and services in which a parent is required to participate, the requirements must relate to some behavior or circumstances that was revealed by the evidence.” A.C. v. Marion County Dep’t of Child Servs., 905 N.E.2d 456, 464 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). Stepfather has constantly denied he needed sex-offender treatment. DCS did not prove at the fact finding Stepfather needed sex-offender treatment. Instead, the juvenile court interpreted In re N.E. to stand for the proposition that if one parent admits the child is a CHINS, the child is automatically a CHINS. In an attempt to provide Stepfather with due process, the juvenile court held a contested dispositional hearing. However, we hold under these facts, the contested dispositional hearing did not provide Stepfather due process because he was not given an opportunity to first contest the CHINS allegation.
In the present case, DCS wanted the Stepfather to participate and complete a sex-offender treatment program. That is the reason why DCS became involved with this family through an informal adjustment, and Stepfather’s failure to complete such a program is why the CHINS petition was filed. The essence of this case was about the Stepfather’s sex-offender counseling. The Stepfather and DCS requested a fact-finding hearing be held. By failing to provide the fact-finding hearing, Stepfather was deprived of due process at the CHINS adjudication stage. Without being able to challenge the evidence, Stepfather was sent through one barrier between him and DCS having the statutory authority to file a termination of parental rights petition. A contested dispositional hearing does not cure the lack of fact-finding hearing when the facts warrant such a hearing.
…We hold that when one parent wishes to admit and another parent wishes to deny the child is in need of services, the trial court shall conduct a fact-finding hearing as to the entire matter. [Footnote omitted.] We find this consistent with previous case law on CHINS and termination of parental rights issues and consistent with the ultimate social welfare policy of juvenile law. …
Shepard, C.J., and Dickson, Sullivan, and Rucker, JJ., concur.