A court will find a child "in need of assistance" (CINA) if the local Department of Social Services proves:
- that a child has been abused or neglected, or has a developmental disability or mental disorder; and
- that the child’s parents, guardian, or custodian do not give proper care and attention to the child’s needs.
Abuse includes sexual abuse, or physical or mental injury that shows that the child’s health or welfare is being harmed by a parent, caretaker, or other household or family member. Beginning on October 1, 2012, a person who allows or encourages a child to engage in obscene or pornographic activity, prostitution, or human trafficking has committed “sexual abuse.”
The court’s goal in a CINA case is to achieve a permanent placement for the child that is consistent with the child’s best interests. The law is designed to only separate a child from his or her parents when it is necessary for the child’s welfare. The law gives priority to placing the child with relatives over non-relatives, when it is possible and in the child’s best interests.
Read the law: MD. Cts & Jud. Proc. § 3-801
Most CINA cases have four stages:
- Shelter care
- Adjudication (which is similar to a trial)
- Disposition (which is similar to sentencing)
- Permanency planning
After the local Department files a Child in Need of Assistance (“CINA”) petition, a CINA case usually begins with a shelter care hearing. If the court finds that there is an emergency situation making it against the child’s welfare to stay in the home, the court may place the child in shelter care. Shelter care is a temporary measure (usually no more than 30 days). A child may be placed in shelter care before a hearing in certain emergency situations.
NOTE: Effective October 1, 2013, Maryland law provides that the court will conduct a hearing at least every six months after a CINA petition is filed. At this hearing, the court will evaluate the child's safety and various other aspects of the child's case.
At the end of the shelter care period, the case moves to adjudication. During adjudication, the court determines if the facts in the CINA petition are true. If the court finds that the local Department has proven the allegations showing neglect, abuse, or that the child’s special needs are not being met, the case moves to the disposition phase (usually on the same day).
At disposition, the court decides whether the child is a “CINA” (a child in need of assistance). The court may:
- return the child to a parent under specific conditions; or
- place the child in foster care; or
- award custody and guardianship to a person who can provide proper care for the child.
If a child is placed out of the home for at least 1 year after the initial removal, the court must hold a permanency planning hearing. At the hearing, the court reviews the child’s permanency plan, and may order:
- the child be returned to the custody of the parent or guardian; or
- the child be placed with a relative (for adoption, or custody and guardianship); or
- the child be placed with a non-relative (for adoption, or custody and guardianship); or
- another planned permanent living arrangement that meets the child’s needs.
Permanency planning hearings are then held every 6 months until permanency is achieved. If the court orders the child be placed for adoption, the court will schedule a termination of parental rights (TPR) hearing, instead of the next 6-month hearing.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc., Title 3, Subtitle 8
Right to Counsel
A parent or guardian of the child has the right to be represented by a lawyer in all of the CINA proceedings. If the parent cannot afford a lawyer, the Office of the Public Defender may represent him or her if the parent is financially eligible, or if the parent is under age 18 or incompetent by reason of mental disability.
The child will also be represented by his or her own lawyer in all of the CINA proceedings. The court will appoint an independent attorney for the child. The State of Maryland contracts with legal services providers (usually the Legal Aid Bureau) and pays for their services to children in CINA cases.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-813
Drug Use by the Mother
In a CINA case where a child is born exposed to certain illegal drugs, or the mother tests positive for certain illegal drugs when admitted to a hospital for delivery, it is much more likely that the child will be found a CINA. If drug treatment is made available to the mother, and she refuses treatment or does not successfully complete treatment, there will be a presumption within 1 year after the child’s birth that the child is not receiving proper care and attention from the mother.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-818
Other things to note about CINA cases
Effective October 1, 2013, before any proceeding concerning a child, the local department will generally give 10 days notice to the child's foster parent, preadoptive parent, or caregiver, of the date, time, and place of the proceeding, and of the right to be heard at the proceeding. This notice provision can be waived for good cause. The foster parent, preadoptive parent, or caregiver, or an attorney for those people, have the right to be heard at the proceeding.
At the disposition hearing, the court may order either or both parents to pay for the support of the child.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-819(l)
At the disposition hearing, if the allegations in the CINA petition are sustained against only one parent of a child, and the second parent is able and willing to care for the child, the court may award custody to the other parent.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-819(e)
The court may order a party to act or not act in a way where the person’s conduct is harmful to the child, or the ordered conduct is necessary for the child’s welfare.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-821
Healthcare providers can disclose some medical records relating to abuse without the permission of persons in interest under certain circumstances.
Read the law: MD. Code Health-General § 4-306
A parent may leave an unharmed newborn with a responsible adult for up to 10 days without facing civil liability or criminal prosecution for neglect.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc § 5-641
In some situations, the judge may consider out-of-court statements that a child under age 13 made to professionals (teachers, nurses, mental health professionals, etc.) about the alleged abuse or neglect.
Read the law: MD. Code Criminal Proc. § 11-304
It is a crime for an adult to willfully contribute to or encourage an act, omission, or condition that renders a child in need of assistance.
Read the law: MD. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-828