A pregnant woman tries to commit suicide in a homeless shelter after leaving her other two children with an acquaintance.

A 13-year-old boy prostitutes himself for money to buy food.

An 8-year-old accuses her stepfather, who is a convicted sex offender, of forcing her to have sex with him. The girl tests positive for herpes.

These Lake County families are among those who recently appeared in juvenile court for a child in need of services, also known as CHINS, proceedings.

A recent Times investigation found parents willing to claim they were guilty of neglect during CHINS hearings to secure needed services for their children with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.

But families in that situation don't typically appear at CHINS hearings. The majority of families in CHINS court proceedings face accusations of serious abuse or neglect.

Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura heard 10 such cases during a recent day in court.

The families involved live in northern and southern portions of the county. Some are poor, others middle-class. They come from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

But in all cases, the Indiana Department of Child Services determined those region families were in desperate need of intervention.

Here are their stories.

Picking up the pieces

A pregnant woman left her two children, ages 1 and 2, at an acquaintance's home before trying to kill herself at the homeless shelter where the family lived.

She appeared in court with the father of her two older children. He asked Bonaventura to grant him custody of his children and offered to take custody of the woman's third child after it is born, even though that child isn't his.

"A child shouldn't have to grow up without a father," the man said.

The man said he has not seen his two children since November, when he moved out of state. He said he has been sending the Gary woman money. The man told Bonaventura he plans to move back to Northwest Indiana.

"I feel bad, like the worst man in the world," he said. "I want my family back together."

Bonaventura asked the children's mother whether she had ever heard of birth control.

"Yes," the woman answered.

"Then why don't you use it?" Bonaventura asked.

"I'd rather get my tubes tied," the woman said, adding that a doctor told her she would have to be 21 or have four kids before she could get the procedure.

Bonaventura pointed out that the woman is now 21. The judge ordered therapy for the mother and parenting assessments on both parents.


The 13-year-old Hammond boy just wanted to be free.

He told DCS investigators he ran away from home because his aunt didn't understand he was gay and trapped in a boy's body. She wouldn't let him wear ladies clothes, he complained.

The boy's parents are incarcerated for drug-related offenses so his aunt is his legal guardian. He started running away from his aunt's home several months ago.

DCS officials filed CHINS proceedings against the aunt after she refused to pick up her nephew from the Crisis Center's emergency shelter because he kept running away.

She told Bonaventura her nephew frequently was in trouble at school and home. He often was picked up by police for prostituting himself, she said.

The boy told investigators he prostituted himself for food. He had been missing from his aunt's home for three weeks before showing up at the Crisis Center with no shoes and looking unkempt.

Bonaventura told DCS to place the boy in foster care.

"A group home would be torturous at best," she said. "He would be bullied, tormented."

The aunt said she was concerned the neglect substantiation could affect her job. Bonaventura said the woman could appeal to get her name removed from the state registry.


School officials reported an East Chicago woman to DCS after her 8-year-old son missed 29 days of school and came to school with a mark on his face. The boy said his mom slapped his cheek.

A DCS caseworker learned the woman lived in a home without electricity, a refrigerator, stove or beds for her five children. Most of her kids were living with various relatives throughout the region.

The woman said she recently lost her job and car.

"I did fall into a bad situation," she said.

In this case, help for the woman and her family came during the CHINS hearing.

A representative from a local home builders program said it will provide a refrigerator, stove and plan for the family. DCS said it will buy two sets of bunk beds and an additional single bed so the children have a place to sleep.


A Gary woman cried as she listened to allegations that her 12-year-old son and 10-year-old relative sexually molested three young girls in her home.

A 4-year-old girl told investigators the boys were "doing nasties" and humping people. She and her 9-year-old sister said they were forced to perform oral sex on the boys.

The girls and a third sister told an older female relative about the abuse, and the relative told their baby sitter, who told their mother.

DCS investigators placed the 12-year-old boy into foster care to protect the girls. The boy denied the allegations and claimed the 10-year-old was the only one doing it.

The 12-year-old is depressed, suicidal and in need of therapy, according to officials at the hospital where he was evaluated.

Bonaventura asked the Gary woman how the boys learned those behaviors at such a young age.

The Gary woman said it could have been her oldest son, whom she kicked out of the house. She told Bonaventura she doesn't bring men around her children. None of the children's fathers attended the hearing.

The woman cried as she told the judge her son had exposed himself in front of the girls last year. At that time, she said she asked the school and relatives for help.

Bonaventura ordered the family to undergo individual and family therapy and ordered an assessment on the 12-year-old boy.

'He didn't ask to be born'

A heroin-addicted mother risks losing parental rights over her second young child.

Police contacted DCS after pulling the region woman over in June. The 22-year-old was driving a car with the wrong license plate on it, with no driver's license and drug paraphernalia in the car. Her 10-month-old son was in the back seat.

She already lost parental rights over her first child because of her drug habit. The woman appeared in juvenile court with her son's father, whom she no longer is seeing.

She had just been released from the hospital after a suicide attempt.

The woman told Bonaventura she used heroin for five or six years before seeking treatment. She stayed heroin-free for more than a year, during which time she met her son's father. The woman told a DCS caseworker she recently relapsed and is using heroin every day.

She and the father admitted using marijuana, and the child's father said he used cocaine five months ago. He told Bonaventura they hadn't planned on having a child.

The DCS caseworker told Bonaventura the agency wanted to place the child with his paternal grandfather, who attended the court hearing with several other relatives.

"I thought I raised them better," the child's grandfather said. "I didn't need a needle in the arm or a beer in my mouth."

The judge said she won't let the boy's parents see their son if they test positive for drugs. She also told the grandfather he could refuse to let the parents visit the child if they appeared under the influence.

"He didn't ask to be born. He didn't ask for his mother to be a drug addict," Bonaventura said. "I don't know where we're going as a society. At some point you have to put up or shut up — either be a parent or don't."

Out of control

A Gary woman was substantiated with neglect after she refused to pick up her adoptive daughter from the juvenile detention center.

"I'm through with her," the woman told Bonaventura.

She said her 15-year-old daughter repeatedly runs away. She's had custody of the girl for 10 years.

The girl told a DCS caseworker she's having sex and drinking alcohol. She said her mom adopted her for money.

Bonaventura, who ordered services for the family, said she can't force the adoptive mother to participate. The judge urged the woman to look beyond her frustration because there was potential for a relationship between her and her adoptive daughter in the future.

Bonaventura ordered the woman's adoption-assistance payments to be held in escrow.


A convicted sex offender told investigators his stepdaughters' claims he had sex with them are "misunderstandings."

"I've never touched them girls in an inappropriate way," he said.

The girls, ages 5 and 8, said the man forced them to touch his genitals and have sex. The 8-year-old said she told her mother, but her mother didn't believe her. The girl tested positive for herpes.

The children's mother said she didn't know her husband was a convicted sex offender when she married him. She told investigators he abuses her and beats her daughters with belts.

Her daughters' biological father also is a convicted sex offender.

Bonaventura ordered the biological father and stepfather to be tested for herpes. The children, removed from the home, are living with a relative.

The girls' stepfather also admitted he did not register as a sex offender at his current address, which is a violation of state law.

'Lame' excuses

A region mother was investigated by DCS after her 2-year-old son's father claimed she was using six bags of heroin per day.

The woman denied the accusation when DCS came to her home but refused a drug screen. She said her son's father was spreading lies about her.

The 2-year-old slept on a pallet on the floor of the living room. The mother told DCS there were issues in the bedroom.

DCS officials initiated a CHINS proceeding against the mother after her son's father showed text messages between the mom and a mutual friend in which she admitted to a drug problem. She also was recently arrested for shoplifting and investigated for burglary.

Bonaventura challenged the mother's "lame excuse" for having the child sleep on the floor in the living room.

The judge also expressed frustration with DCS for waiting to see the text messages instead of removing the child right away. She said the caseworker should have given the mother the choice of a drug screen or the child being taken.

Bonaventura ordered a hair-follicle drug test for the mother, who was out of state at the time of the court hearing. The judge said police could use forced entry to gain access to the child if needed.


Local school officials reported a Hammond family to DCS after a 4-year-old boy with autism and mild cerebral palsy repeatedly came to school dirty. The boy's two half-siblings, who do not have developmental disabilities, appeared to have been receiving proper care.

The boy's father, who had custody of his son since March, denied neglecting his son. He admitted he had no health insurance or Medicaid to pay for his son's health or therapy needs.

The boy's mother said she let her son live with his father while she moved in with her mother and sister. The boy's father lives with his ex-girlfriend's parents.

"I just wanted him in school," the man said of his son.

He said he recently applied for Medicaid for his son. DCS officials recommended home-based services for the family. Bonaventura agreed and ordered the father to participate in a parenting program.

Inconsistent communication

A Hammond woman lost custody of her four children after she failed to participate in required services.

The woman first was investigated by DCS after her 14-year-old son had 19 unexcused absences from school. Since that time, the DCS caseworker said the woman had "inconsistent" communication with the state agency, and her son no longer is living at home.

DCS said it is working to place the children with a relative.

The woman admitted she had not done a good job of communicating with the state agency while she was being evicted. She said she was living with a relative and applied for dozens of jobs. She also said her son's absences were because of suspensions.

"I am sorry that this happened," the woman said.

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