State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) recently filed a bill that would provide family caregivers of children in need of services (CHINS) with legal representation.

Senate Bill 26 would allow familial caretakers of CHINS to have a right to counsel in court cases, provided with funds from the Public Defense Fund. This would allow the caretaker to be heard and represented in court even if they cannot afford their own legal representation.

This bill is in response to a law passed during the 2022 legislative session, Senate Enrolled Act 410, which allows an unlicensed caregiver of a child to intervene as a concerned party in the event that a child is in need of services in a juvenile court proceeding or if there is a proceeding to terminate the parent-child relationship.

“SB 26 is the continuation of my work to prevent tragedies like that of Judah Morgan. That never should have happened, and I am doing what I can to help protect children like Judah who need help,” Bohacek said.

SEA 410 was filed after Judah Morgan, a 4-year-old in LaPorte County, was found dead after suffering severe injuries from blunt force trauma in his birth parents’ home in October 2021. Judah’s foster mother and second cousin, Jenna Hullett, said she was aware of the abuse Judah suffered at the hands of his birth parents and tried to speak against Judah being placed back with them, but felt that her warnings were being ignored.

Since learning of Hullett’s difficulties in being able to fully take over her role as Judah’s familial caregiver, Bohacek has been crafting legislation to provide protections for both family caregivers and CHINS.

“I initially wanted to include SB 26 in my bill from last session, but it had to be filed during a budget year. Now that the 2023 legislative session has begun and the General Assembly is actively working on crafting the budget, I hope to be able to help some of these family caregivers provide for the children they love,” Bohacek said. “These caregivers genuinely want what’s best for the children and deserve to have a right to representation in court, even if they can’t afford their own representation.”

SB 26 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary for consideration.