Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Juvenile Law
Ashley W. v. Holcomb
When the Indiana Department of Child Services identifies a situation that involves the apparent neglect or abuse of a child, it files a “CHINS” (Children in Need of Services) petition that may request the child’s placement with foster parents. The litigation ends only when the court determines that the child’s parents can resume unsupervised custody, the child is adopted, or the child turns 18. Minors who are or were subject to CHINS proceedings sought an injunction covering how the Department investigates child welfare before CHINS proceedings, when it may or must initiate CHINS proceedings, and what relief the Department may or must pursue. The district court denied a request to abstain and declined to dismiss the suit.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Only two plaintiffs still have live claims; all of their claims may be resolved in CHINS proceedings, so “Younger” abstention applies. Short of ordering the state to produce more money, "it is hard to see what options are open to a federal court but closed to a CHINS court." It is improper for a federal court to issue an injunction requiring a state official to comply with existing state law. Questions that lie outside the scope of CHINS proceedings, such as how the Department handles investigations before filing a CHINS petition, do not affect the status of the remaining plaintiffs. Any contentions that rest on state law also are outside the province of the federal court. View "Ashley W. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law
Cynthia W. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services
In Alaska, a child was presumed to be at substantial risk of sexual abuse (and therefore in need of aid) if the parent knowingly leaves the child with a person convicted of or under investigation for a sex offense against a minor. After an adjudication hearing, a superior court found a child to be at substantial risk of sexual abuse based on evidence that she was left with her mother’s boyfriend, who had been indicted for sexual abuse of a minor. The mother appealed, arguing that the superior court erred by not acknowledging that an indictment was weaker proof than a conviction and by not making findings about the likelihood that the conduct underlying the indictment actually occurred. Because the statute did not require the superior court to draw such distinctions or make such findings, and because the findings the court did make are not clearly erroneous, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed its ruling that the child was in need of aid. View "Cynthia W. v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services" on Justia Law
In re G.B.
A New Hampshire circuit court issued an adjudicatory order finding that G.B., a minor, had been neglected, but that respondents, G/B/'s adoptive parents, were not at fault for the neglect. Subsequently, the court issued a dispositional order awarding legal custody of G.B. to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and requiring DCYF to seek placement for G.B. in a residential treatment facility. DCYF appealed both orders, and G.B.’s guardian ad litem (GAL), Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA), joined in appealing the dispositional order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it ruled that the respondents did not neglect G.B. The Court further concluded that, although the circuit court did not err by ruling G.B. a neglected child and ordering G.B.’s placement in a residential treatment facility, it failed to identify legally permissible primary and concurrent case plans in its dispositional order. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law
Smith v. Alexander, et al.
Steven Smith, as conservator of the estate of B.J. (minor), appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Elizabeth Alexander, Amanda Buchanan, and Michael Key on Smith's claims alleging violations of policies promulgated by the State Department of Human Resources ("the State DHR"), negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage. In May 2015, Key was employed by the Cullman County DHR as a foster-care supervisor, responsible for supervising Cullman County DHR caseworkers. Key reported to Buchanan, who oversaw the Child Family Services Program, the Child Protective Services Program, and the Foster Care Program for the Cullman County DHR. Buchanan in turn reported to Alexander, the director of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was placed in the custody of the Cullman County DHR when he was three years old after having suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect at the hands of family members. In 2002, the trial court awarded the Cullman County DHR legal guardianship and permanent custody of B.J. While in the custody of the Cullman County DHR, B.J. was placed in a number of foster homes, group homes, residential facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions. In July 2014, B.J. was placed by the Cullman County DHR at the Altapointe Group Home. While there, B.J. underwent an assessment, which revealed he had regularly exhibited violent outbursts and physically aggressive behavior toward others; he had a history of depression, suicide and delusional thinking; and engaged in impulsive and delinquent behavior. B.J. would ultimately be arrested for such behavior towards others. B.J. had personal funds with which he could post bail, but the decision was made he should have remained in jail pending an arrangement for further mental health counseling. Smith argued defendants' decisions leaving B.J. incarcerated did not follow departmental policies of least-restrictive-placement-possible, and as such, caused B.J. irreparable harm. The Alabama Supreme Court found that each crucial decision made by the defendants -- i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.'s bond before his court date -- were made with B.J.'s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors. Accordingly, Smith failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants acted willfully in dealing with B.J. and that, therefore, they were not entitled to the protection of State-agent immunity. View "Smith v. Alexander, et al." on Justia Law
In re N.A.
Appellant N.A. was a nonminor former dependent (NFD). While a minor, she lived with a legal guardian, who received financial aid (aid to families with dependent children-foster care, or AFDC-FC) on N.A.’s behalf. When N.A. was 17 years old, she moved out of the guardian’s home. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency was not informed of this circumstance, and AFDC-FC payments to the guardian continued past N.A.’s 18th birthday. The guardian provided some financial support to N.A. after she moved out, but at some point, the guardian stopped providing support altogether. Thereafter, N.A. petitioned to return to juvenile court jurisdiction and foster care, which would provide her with certain services and financial aid, under Welfare & Institutions Code section 388.1. At that time, the Agency became aware of N.A.’s prior living circumstance and determined that she and the guardian became ineligible for AFDC-FC payments when N.A. moved out of the guardian’s home before N.A. turned 18. The Agency sent notice of its decision to the guardian. Based on its determination that N.A. was not actually eligible to receive AFDC-FC payments after she turned 18, the Agency recommended denying her petition for reentry. The juvenile court denied N.A.’s petition for reentry, but ordered the Agency to notify N.A. directly of its eligibility determination so that she could pursue administrative remedies. On appeal, N.A. contended the juvenile court’s order was based on an erroneous interpretation of section 388.1 and related statutes. Alternatively, N.A. argued that the court should have decided the AFDC-FC eligibility issue because exhausting the administrative hearing process would be futile under the circumstances. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order. View "In re N.A." on Justia Law
In re S.R., Juvenile
Juvenile S.R. appealed a family division order granting the Department for Children and Families' (DCF) request to place him in a secure out-of-state psychiatric residential treatment facility pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5926. In November 2019, mother stipulated that S.R. was CHINS. The stipulated merits order indicated that S.R. and mother were homeless, mother needed to undergo a medical procedure that would preclude her from caring for S.R., and S.R. had mental health and behavioral needs that needed continued treatment. The stipulated order included a statement that S.R. did not meet criteria for voluntary or involuntary mental health admission. Mother stipulated that she was unable to meet S.R.’s needs for stability, housing, and mental and behavioral health services. The COVID-19 pandemic struck, delaying court hearings. Over the following months, S.R. moved through a series of ten to twelve placements. The constant changes in placement prevented S.R. from establishing any therapeutic connections with service providers and also inhibited S.R.’s educational progress. S.R. was charged with delinquency several times after he reportedly became abusive during three of his placements. DCF, Mother and S.R.'s guardian ad litem eventually agreed on a placement in Harbor Point, Virginia. S.R. himself objected to placement at Harbor Point, and to any other placement out-of-state, unless a program could be found in New York, where his mother was living at the time of the hearing. The court ultimately granted DCF’s motion for out-of-state placement, finding that there were no equivalent facilities in Vermont, and that placement at Harbor Point was in S.R.’s best interest. On appeal, S.R. argued the court erred in granting the motion for out-of-state placement in the absence of any psychiatric or psychological evaluation supporting a conclusion that psychiatric residential treatment was necessary for him. He contended his placement was akin to the involuntary commitment of an adult, and that involuntary commitment decisions had to be supported by full psychiatric evaluations and expert testimony. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the order was not supported by sufficient evidence, and reversed. "While we have no doubt that everyone involved in the proceeding below was concerned with S.R.’s best interest and acted in good faith, and it may be that DCF’s position is ultimately adequately supported, the record simply does not contain the sort of expert evidence required to support long-term placement in a locked psychiatric residential treatment facility over S.R.’s objection." View "In re S.R., Juvenile" on Justia Law
Flores v. Rosen
This case relates to the consent decree incorporating the Flores Agreement, a 1997 settlement agreement between the United States and a class of all minors subject to immigration detention. The Agreement established nationwide standards for the detention, release, and treatment of minors by U.S. immigration authorities. The Agreement, by its own terms, terminates after the government's publication of final regulations implementing the Agreement. In 2019, the government issued final regulations represented as implementing, and thus terminating, the Agreement. The district court then concluded that the new regulations, on the whole, were inconsistent with the Agreement, enjoining the regulations from taking effect and denying the government's motion to terminate the Agreement.The Ninth Circuit held that the provisions of the new regulations relating to unaccompanied minors are consistent with the Agreement except to the extent that they require ORR to place an unaccompanied minor in a secure facility if the minor is otherwise a danger to self or others and to the extent they require unaccompanied minors held in secure or staff-secure placements to request a hearing, rather than providing a hearing to those minors automatically unless they refuse one.The panel also held that some of the regulations regarding initial detention and custody of both unaccompanied and accompanied minors are consistent with the Agreement and may take effect. However, the remaining new regulations relating to accompanied minors depart from the Agreement in several important ways. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's order enjoining those regulations. The panel further held that the district court correctly concluded that the Agreement was not terminated by the adoption of the regulations. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the government's motion to terminate the Agreement, as the government has not demonstrated that changed circumstances, such as an increase in family migration, justify terminating the Agreement's protections. View "Flores v. Rosen" on Justia Law
In the Matter of April S.
An Alaska Native teenage minor affiliated with the Native Village of Kotzebue (Tribe) was taken into custody by the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and placed at a residential treatment facility in Utah. She requested a placement review hearing after being injured by a facility staff member. At the time of the hearing, the minor’s mother wanted to regain custody. At the hearing the superior court had to make removal findings under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), as well as findings authorizing continued placement in a residential treatment facility under Alaska law. At the hearing, the minor’s Utah therapist testified as a mental health professional. The minor, as well as her parents and the Tribe, objected to the witness being qualified as an ICWA expert, but the superior court allowed it. The minor argued the superior court erred in determining that the witness was qualified as an expert for the purposes of ICWA. Because the superior court correctly determined that knowledge of the Indian child’s tribe was unnecessary in this situation when it relied on the expert’s testimony for its ICWA findings, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of April S." on Justia Law
Spintz v. DFS
The Division of Family Services ("DFS") investigated allegations that the minor, Appellant Daniel Spintz, sexually assaulted his younger sister. After its investigation, DFS determined to substantiate and place Spintz on the Child Protection Registry. This appeal concerned whether DFS provided adequate notice of its intent to substantiate and place Spintz on the Child Protection Registry. On November 27, 2017, DFS sent Spintz and his guardian the Notice through certified and regular mail. The certified mail was not successfully delivered and returned to DFS. On April 10, 2018, after the conclusion of parallel delinquency proceedings, DFS filed the Petition with the Family Court. DFS also sent Spintz and his guardian the Petition with a copy of the Notice attached for reference. Spintz claimed he did not receive the November 2017 notice, and only became aware of the substantiation proceedings in April 2018 when he received the Notice attached to the Petition. The Family Court commissioner concluded the Notice sent with the Petition in April 2018 satisfied all statutory and constitutional notice requirements. On review, the Family Court affirmed the commissioner's order. After considering the parties’ arguments and the record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court found that Delaware law required DFS to send the Notice of Intent to Substantiate before DFS files the Petition for Substantiation. Therefore, DFS did not meet its notice requirement by sending the Notice with the already-filed Petition. That, however, did not change the ultimate outcome of this appeal because DFS introduced evidence showing that it sent the Notice by certified mail on November 27, 2017, long before it filed the Petition. DFS also sent the Notice by regular mail at that time; and it sent the Notice a second time on April 10, 2018, which Spintz received. Based on this evidence, the Supreme Court concluded that DFS provided adequate notice that satisfied statutory and constitutional requirements. View "Spintz v. DFS" on Justia Law
In re: H.R.
On September 20, 2010, at age of 13 appellant, H.R., was adjudicated delinquent for indecent assault of a complainant less than 13 years of age. Appellant was placed on official probation and, pursuant to Section 6352 of the Juvenile Act, was ordered to undergo inpatient treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility. Appellant remained in treatment when he turned 20 in February 2017 and he was assessed pursuant to Section 6352, the results of which found that involuntary treatment at a sex offender residential treatment facility pursuant to the Court-Ordered Involuntary Treatment of Certain Sexually Violent Persons Statute (Act 21) was still necessary. On January 4, 2018, following a hearing, a trial court denied appellant's motion to dismiss and granted the petition for involuntary treatment, determining appellant was an sexually violent delinquent child (SVDC) and committing him to one year of mental health treatment. On appeal, appeal, appellant argued: (1) Act 21 was punitive in nature, and this its procedure for determining whether an individual was an SVDC was unconstitutional; and (2) retroactive application of amendments to Act 21 made effective in 2011, was also unconstitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the superior court correctly determined the relevant provisions of Act 21 were not punitive, were constitutional, thus, affirming the trial court's order. View "In re: H.R." on Justia Law