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Child in Need of Services (CHINS)

What is a CHINS?

A Child in Need of Services (CHINS) matter is a court case in which the Juvenile Court is asked to help parents and school officials supervise youth. A Child in Need of Services is a child between the ages of 6 and 17 who:
repeatedly runs away from home; or
repeatedly fails to obey the lawful and reasonable rules of a parent, which interferes with the parent’s ability to adequately care for and protect the child; or
repeatedly fails to obey lawful and reasonable school regulations; or
willfully fails to attend school for more than 8 school days in a quarter.

Who may file A CHINS?

For a child who is at least 6 but not yet 17, a parent or guardian may file a CHINS petition on their child who runs away or doesn't follow the rules at home.

For a child who is at least 6 but not yet 17, the police may file a CHINS petition on a child who runs away from home.

For a child who is at least 6 but not yet 16, a school district may file a CHINS petition on a child who is frequently absent or misbehaves at school.

What happens on the first court date?

On the first court date, the child and the parent may meet with the probation officer assigned to the case. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, the child may also have to go before a clerk magistrate and/or be assigned an attorney and appear before the judge. If the case is not considered by the court to be too serious, the child may only meet with the probation officer for informal assistance.

If the child is found to be a runaway, the judge may grant temporary custody of the child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). If the judge does give temporary custody to DCF, DCF makes the decision about where the child will live; it may be at the child’s home, in a foster home, or at a program, depending on the age and needs of the child. Along with granting temporary custody to DCF, the judge may also recommend that DCF not send the child home.

If the child was arrested by the police for failing to come to court or was arrested as a runaway, and the court finds that the child is not likely to return for the next court date, the court may impose bail or other reasonable conditions aimed at making sure the child comes to court. Usually that means putting the child in DCF custody.

No child can be held on bail under a CHINS for more than 15 days without returning to court. If a child is held on bail under a CHINS petition, the child cannot be locked up and held at a Department of Y outh Services Detention Center (DYS).

When the child is brought to court after being arrested as a runaway, the CHINS petition will auto- matically be issued and the case will be scheduled for a trial.

What is informal assistance?

Informal assistance is used to try to resolve the problems that led to the filing of the CHINS without getting the judge involved in the case. Once a child is referred to probation for informal assistance, the probation officer meets with the family and the child to discuss ways to solve the problem. The probation officer, the child, and the family also decide what services the child needs to assist him or her. If the probation officer thinks that the child would be best served by having an attorney present, an attorney can be appointed. The parent or the child can also ask the probation officer to appoint an attorney to advise the child. The child is usually asked to sign a CHINS agreement.

The services that probation can recommend include: counseling, educational, occupational, medical, psychiatric, or social services, anger management or fire safety classes, after-school or extra-curricular programs, support groups, drug court, and drug and alcohol testing. A child cannot be forced to participate in any of these activities. However, if the child does not accept and cooperate with informal assistance, the probation officer can ask the court to issue the CHINS petition and set a date for trial.

How long will informal assistance last?

The period of informal assistance should last only for six months. This period can be extended beyond six months, but only with the written consent of the child and parents.

What is a CHINS agreement?

A CHINS agreement is like a contract. The child and his or her parent meet with the probation officer to try to figure out what services or rules can be put in place to help address the situation that led to the CHINS. The child will be asked to sign the agreement and to follow the listed conditions or rules. Typical CHINS agreements include conditions like attending school daily without incident, coming home by a set curfew, attending counseling, treating family members and other people with respect, and remaining drug and alcohol free.

What happens next?

The probation officer makes recommendations about the case. The probation officer could recommend: not to issue a petition because it looks like the child does not need services; or
For a child who is at least 6 but not yet 17, a parent or guardian may file a CHINS petition on their child who runs away or doesn't follow the rules at home.
not to issue the petition because the child would be better served by informal services through the probation department; or
that the case be scheduled for trial; and/or
that an attorney be appointed to represent the child and possibly that an attorney be appointed for the parent or legal guardian.

Can an attorney be appointed for a parent in a CHINS case?

Yes, under certain circumstances. A parent is enti- tled to an appointed attorney if the judge is considering placing the child in DCF custody. Before an attorney is appointed for a parent, the parent has to meet certain income guidelines set by the Court. If a parent does not meet those income guidelines, he/she can hire their own attorney or proceed without an attorney. If a parent wants an attorney appointed for them, they should talk to the probation officer.

What happens at the trial?

The trial (or “hearing on the merits”) is held before a judge to determine whether, beyond a reasonable doubt, the child is a Child in Need of Services as defined by law. The child also has a right to a trial in front of a jury made up of six adult members of the community.

The child and his or her attorney must be present at the trial. The child, through his or her attorney, has a right to present evidence in support of his or her position, and a right to cross-examine witnesses. Witnesses may include the probation officer, truant officer, parents, school officials, social service providers, and others the child wants to have as witnesses.

Nothing that the child or any other person said during informal assistance can be used against the child during the trial.

Remember that if the behavior attributed to the child is infrequent, isolated or due to no fault of the child, the child should not be a CHINS.

What happens if the judge or jury finds that the child is a Child in Need of Services?

The period of informal assistance should last only for six months. This period can be extended beyond six months, but only with the consent of the child and parents.

What happens if the judge or jury finds that the child is a Child in Need of Services?

Yes. The case must be reviewed by a judge every six months to see if the goals of the CHINS have been met. If the child believes that s/he has met the goals of the CHINS, the child must be given a chance to have a full hearing, at which witnesses and documents can be used to show how s/he has been doing for the last six months, and whether or not the issues that led to the CHINS have been resolved.

The party that wants the CHINS to continue must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that the goals of the CHINS have not been met, and that it would be best for the child to continue to receive services.

The case can be heard sooner than six months if the child continues to engage in the behavior that led to the CHINS, or if the child is doing well and everyone agrees that custody should return to the parent before six months has passed. Throughout the case, the judge can order a change in the child’s placement if necessary.

When can a CHINS be dismissed?

The case can be dismissed at the six-month review date or sooner if the judge finds that the objectives of the CHINS have been met. This usually means that the child can show that the behavior that prompted the CHINS has not occurred in at least a few months and that the reasons for the behavior have been addressed so it is less likely to occur in the future. If the objective of the CHINS has not been met, the CHINS will be extended for another six months. At the end of that period, there will be another review in which the CHINS petition, once again, may be extended or dismissed.

If the CHINS was filed by the school because of attendance or behavior issues, the case must be dismissed when the child turns sixteen.

All CHINS petitions initiated by parents must be dismissed by the time the child turns eighteen.


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