Gavel Gamut: By Judge Jim Redwine
The Posey County Department of Family and Children is part of the state wide agency that is charged with assisting Posey County residents whose health and safety may be endangered.
Susan Blackburn is the director of the department and Attorney Daniel Jankowski represents the department in court. Staff members Margaret Angel, Elizabeth Bryant, Carrie Garrison, Ashley Arnett and Jennifer Dagg, also, work with families and often appear in court.
There are many situations that may require the DFC to intervene in a family’s lives, but in the main it is the legal system’s concern with the welfare of children that calls for action, either formal or informal.
Informal intervention is subject to court approval, but does not involve an appearance in court and usually means the DFC offers advice, services and oversight for a short period. Normally children remain in their home if the circumstances do not involve any ongoing possible danger to a child’s health, safety or welfare.
If a formal proceeding is called for by the facts of a particular case, DFC does an investigation denoted as a Preliminary Inquiry and files it with the Circuit Court. Along with the Preliminary Inquiry DFC must file a request that the judge determine if there is probable cause to believe the child or children are in a home environment dangerous to their safety and well being.
The judge must, also, make specific findings on the record that DFC made reasonable efforts, if possible, to maintain the children in the home or to place them with a relative if they must be removed. The judge’s order must set out whether the situation requires DFC’s intervention and whether it would have been unreasonable for DFC to not intervene as lack of intervention would have been contrary to the health, safety and welfare of the children and contrary to the best interest of the children and society.
If the judge authorizes the filing of a verified petition by DFC, the parents must be afforded legal counsel and have the opportunity for a speedy hearing at which they and their lawyer may confront and cross examine any accusers and use the subpoena power of the court to order witnesses and evidence into court if they choose. The parents have no burden of proof. DFC must prove its allegations.
Next week we can discuss the alternatives if children are found by the judge to be Children in Need of Services (C.H.I.N.S.).