|Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush|
The case centered around a mother of five children, including a two-year-old who required hospitalization for cardiomyopathy. The mother was forced to move from her Gary, Indiana home to Indianapolis where the child was placed on a ventilator at Riley Hospital for Children.
The Department of Child Services initiated a CHINS (Child in Need of Services) proceeding against the mother because she failed to enroll them in school and became "disengaged from her child's hospital care plan" because of her overwhelming responsibilities as a single mother. She allowed DCS to remove the four siblings from her care to focus on the care of her hospitalized child.
The mother worked diligently to find stable housing and employment and the four children were eventually returned to her care; however, DCS refused to release the sick two-year-old to her custody because she had not met the training requirements to care for the child upon her release. The hospital would not discharge the child until mother and a second caregiver completed significant medical training.
The child's grandmother had volunteered to be a second caregiver; however, DCS would not approve of her based on a background check. The mother scrambled to find a replacement back-up, but had difficulty doing so on short notice.
"Child in need of services (CHINS) cases aim to help families in crisis—to protect children, not punish parents," wrote Justice Rush in the unanimous ruling. "Our focus, then, is on the best interests of the child and whether the child needs help that the parent will not be willing or able to provide—not whether the parent is somehow “guilty” or “deserves” a CHINS adjudication."
Justice Rush also chided DCS for creating the issues that prevented mother's reunification with her sick child.
"Mother's most significant failure--to complete the home-care simulation--appears as much a product of DCS's intervention as it is a sign for her need for that intervention," wrote Rush, who also pointed out that DCS's disapproval of the grandmother required the mother to "go back to the drawing board" to recruit someone else.
The ruling stated that the children may have needed the state to step in at first, but by the time there was a hearing on the case, the family no longer needed services. The mother had refused public assistance and had instead relied on help from family members.
The mother also refused to apply for a job at the post office after the state had set up an interview. In addition, the mother found her own employment and said she did not wish to pursue that type of work, which apparently upset DCS case workers.
"DCS's desire to help the family was understandable, but the facts simply do not justify subjecting the family to State compulsion," wrote Rush. "When ...coercion is not necessary, the State may not intude into a family's life."
Rush admonished DCS for it's unnecessary intervention into this family's life and blamed the state for delaying the child's return to her parent's custody.
Justice Rush wrote that the mother "had difficulty meeting the demands of a situation that would test the mettle of any parent," but she might have been able to overcome those obstacles if the state had not intervened. Rush went on to say that DCS added to the delay in the child's return from the hospital.
Judge Rush Receives Praise From Supreme Court ColleaguesAside from the fact that Justice Loretta Rush is a crown jewel from Lafayette, she is more than qualified to write this ruling as she presided over CHINS cases in Tippecanoe County Superior Court 3 for over 14 years.
Rush was recently featured in the Purdue Exponent in an article entitled, "Purdue Women Feature: Loretta Rush worked her way up from Purdue to Indiana Supreme Court Justice," wherein she received accolades from colleages, including Senior Justice Brent Dickson, another shining star from Lafayette.
“She is an immensely hard worker, extraordinarily well-prepared, an excellent opinion writer, and contributes (to the court) with wisdom, grace and a good sense of humor,” Dickson wrote in an email.
Another Indiana Supreme Court justice and former juvenile trial court judge, Steve David, agreed with Dickson and spoke very highly of Rush.
“Passion is her personality, she takes what she does, and always has, very seriously,” David said.The contributors at the Lafayette Citizen Journal believe the accolades are well-deserved.
Photo: Justice Brent Dickson administers the oath of office to Justice Loretta Rush.