The Journal Gazette
Saturday, February 20, 2016 11:08 am

Toddler's dad wins back parental rights

Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette

An Allen County man had his parental rights restored this week after a ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court overturned a 2014 ruling by Allen Superior Court Judge Charles Pratt and a ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

In April 2014, Pratt ordered the termination of both parents’ rights, finding the father of a child identified as "V.A." could not remedy the situation that led to the child’s removal from her home.

In 2012, the child’s mother called the Department of Child Services, saying she was overwhelmed in caring for her then-2-year-old daughter. The mother suffered from untreated mental health disorders and served as the toddler’s primary caregiver while her husband, the child’s father, was at work, according to court documents.

DCS eventually removed the child from the home, and officials felt the mother was incapable of caring for the child at that point. They told the father that if he did not choose to have his wife leave the home, he would likely lose custody of the child, according to court documents.

At the time of the termination hearings, the father had moved the family into a three-bedroom home with the option to buy it, according to court documents.

He was undergoing marital counseling, fully complying with the safety plan DCS put into place and doing what he needed to comply with the court-ordered plan to reunify the family, according to court documents.

But after four days of hearings, Pratt ruled that the father couldn’t keep the toddler out of harm’s way, according to court documents.

"He does not have the support or ability to provide the level of supervision required to ensure the child’s safety when in the company of her mother," Pratt said, according to court documents.

The appellate court upheld Pratt’s decision in December 2014.

A panel of Indiana Supreme Court justices heard arguments from both sides in July.

On Thursday, the justices issued their ruling, finding Pratt erred by removing the child permanently from the father’s care.

"We fail to see how simply living with a relative suffering from mental illness provides a more satisfactory basis for termination (than the parent’s own mental illness)," Justice Robert Rucker wrote. "And this is particularly so here since the trial court did not find ... that V.A. had been abused by Mother during the time that she was in her Father’s custody."

Rucker added the situation for this child was no different than if the family was caring for another relative with mental illness, a grandparent suffering from Alzheimer’s, a sibling with impulse control disorder or even a parent returning from a combat tour with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The court ruled that the best thing for the child now may be for her to remain with her current foster family while DCS works with the father to help him better understand how to care for his mentally ill wife and successfully parent his child at the same time.

The case was sent back to Allen Superior Court’s Family Relations Division for "further proceedings."

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