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Child in Need of Services (CHINS)

How can a chins attorney or child protection lawyer help if I know an abused or neglected child? Or if I know a child who has committed an act that would or could be criminal if the child was an adult, how can a child protection attorney help? Do parents need a child protection attorney if they are accused of neglect or harm to the child?

There are two classifications that a child may fall into by virtue of being abused or neglected, or if the child commits an act that would be a criminal act if he or she were an adult. The first is Child in Need of Services (known by the acronym “CHINS”). If your child has had a new CHINS filing, there will be a petition alleging the child is CHINS and a legal advocate for the child is normally appointed.

Children who are abused or neglected are more likely to act out in time and commit acts that would be criminal if they were adults. In this case, the children are treated as juvenile delinquents. They can be incarcerated until they are 21, but will not have an adult criminal record. In some cases, however, juvenile delinquents may be waived into adult court and tried as an adult. Juvenile delinquents are also typically appointed counsel. However, they can elect to have private counsel, which is more of a consideration if there is waiver to adult court.

In CHINS cases, it is sometimes critical that the parents themselves have a child protection attorney who understands that the reason the child might be CHINS is because of an alleged criminal act that the parent committed against the child. In that case, the child protection attorney represents the parent or parents, not the child.

Where the parent has a child protection attorney at the initial CHINS hearing, the petition alleging CHINS and the specific reasons stated therein, will be reviewed by the judge with the parents and parties. If a parent admits the allegations in the CHINS petition as “true,” this will allow the court to order services for the parents and children. However, the parent may be admitting, by agreeing with the allegations in the CHINS petition and stating they are “true” under oath, that he or she committed a crime against the child, ranging from criminal neglect to molestation, or as set forth in the allegations in the CHINS petition.

Therefore, it is sometimes appropriate for the parents to have child protection lawyers to represent their legal interests (as opposed to the child’s legal interests) and/or assert their Fifth Amendment privilege and refuse to testify. Thus, it may be the case the parents and children need separate counsels and have opposing legal interests. With the assertion of the Fifth Amendment privilege, the court cannot force a parent to testify. As such, a criminal prosecutor will not have a transcript to obtain wherein the parent makes an admission of “true” from the CHINS court to secure a conviction, since the parent will have refused to testify in the CHINS.

However, failure to admit and cooperate with CHINS services may lead to the parent having their parental rights to the child terminated. The child then becomes a ward of the state or adopted, which pits the fundamental and constitutional right of parents to raise their children against the right against self-incrimination in any proceeding where it may be used against you later in a criminal charge or context. A skilled chins attorney and/or criminal defense attorney will help you balance these competing interests on a risk/benefit scale. The criminal case may result in imprisonment. The CHINS case, at worst, can result in a termination of parental rights to the child. If this is your case, it is imperative that you consult with a child protection lawyer or criminal defense counsel before you go to the initial CHINS hearing.

Finally, as a concerned parent that does not face serious civil or criminal risk by a CHINS or delinquency filing for the child, you may want to retain a private chins attorney for your child and/or your own counsel for delinquency proceedings. This reasoning or parental position would also apply to a delinquency case.

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