Children in peril

Panel endorses bill speeding prosecutor aid to endangered children

2012-10-15T00:00:00Z 2013-05-04T17:09:05Z Panel endorses bill speeding prosecutor aid to endangered childrenBy Marisa Kwiatkowski, (219) 662-5333

INDIANAPOLIS | The Commission on Mental Health and Addiction on Monday unanimously approved the draft of a bill that would temporarily give prosecutors back the ability to file petitions alleging a child is a danger to himself or herself.

The child in need of services 6 petitions, also known as CHINS 6 petitions, were designed to be used in cases where children need court intervention to secure mental health services.

A Times investigation published earlier this year found there has been a multiagency failure to provide intensive services to some children with severe mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. Children who do not receive needed services may enter the court system as juvenile delinquents or as children in need of services.

In some cases, The Times learned, parents — who had been dedicated to seeking care for their children — admitted to neglect to secure services.

Judges, prosecutors and public defenders have argued filing a CHINS 6 petition is a better alternative because it allows the court to intervene without substantiating neglect against a child's parents. Former Indiana Department of Child Services Director James Payne disagreed. He told The Times a CHINS 6 petition creates an adversarial relationship between parents and their children.

DCS is the only entity that can file CHINS 6 petitions but it rarely does so. Prosecutors lost the ability to file the petitions in 2008 after a change in state law.

Judges, public defenders and prosecutors throughout the state have argued DCS is not using its current power effectively. They told legislators returning such authority to prosecutors would ensure there is a safety net for children who need court intervention to secure mental health services.

The draft of the bill approved Monday would give prosecutors the ability to file CHINS 6 cases for two years — until June 30, 2015. The bill still needs state Legislature approval.

State Rep. Cindy Noe, R-Indianapolis, said the bill is a compromise that will give state officials time to determine whether a plan they proposed to close the gap in mental health services for children will work. Noe is chair of the Commission on Mental Health and Addiction.

State Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton, said the bill should go into effect immediately upon approval by the state Legislature, rather than starting July 1 as it currently is written.

"We have children who maybe are falling through the cracks right now," he said. "The sooner we address it, the better."

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