Topics on this page
- Who is a child in need of assistance?
- CINA Petition
- CINA Proceedings
- Right to Counsel
- Drug Use by the Mother
- Other Issues and Notes
Who is a child in need of assistance?
A court will find a child "in need of assistance" (CINA) if the local Department of Social Services (DSS) 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. Sexual abuse may include sexual molestation, exploitation, or trafficking. Allowing or encouraging a child to engage in obscene or pornographic activity or prostitution, is also “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. In all stages of a CINA case, when it is possible and in the child's best interest, the law gives priority to placing the child with relatives over non-relatives.
Read the law: Md. Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-801, § 3-802
When a local DSS determines that a child is in need of assistance, the DSS files a CINA petition. The petition can be filed:
- where the child lives; or
- if there is a specific act that gave rise to the determination of need, in the county where the act allegedly occurred.
The CINA petition should explain in clear and simple language the facts supporting the DSS determination. The petition must include:
- The name and address of the person filing the petition.;
- The child's name, address, and, if known,
- the child’s date of birth,
- the name and address of each parent, guardian, or custodian of the child.;
- The basis for the court's jurisdiction.
- That the child is in need of assistance and the support for that allegation.
- the name and address of each witness whom the petitioner intends to call to testify in support of the petition; and
- Whether the child is in shelter care, and, if so:
- the date the shelter care commenced;
- whether the child's parent, guardian, or custodian has been notified; and
- whether the petitioner is seeking continued shelter care.
Read the law: Md. Rule 11-205, Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-811
Most CINA cases have four stages:
- Shelter care
- Adjudication (which is similar to a trial)
- Disposition (which is similar to sentencing)
- Permanency planning
The local DSS may place a child in emergency shelter care before a court hearing if:
- Placement is required to protect the child from serious immediate danger;
- There is no parent, guardian, custodian, relative, or other person able to provide supervision; and
- The child's continued placement in the child's home is contrary to the welfare of the child and removal from the home is reasonable to provide for the safety of the child.
If a child is placed in emergency shelter care, DSS must give written notice to the child's parent, guardian, or custodian. DSS must also file a CINA petition the next day. The court will hold a hearing on the request for continued shelter care on the same day that the CINA petition is filed. The hearing on emergency shelter care may be postponed, but only up to a maximum of 8 days.
At the emergency hearing, the court will determine if the child should continue in shelter care. The shelter care may only continue if the court determines:
- Return of the child to the child's home is contrary to the safety and welfare of the child;
- Removal of the child from the child's home is necessary to provide for the safety of the child; or
- Reasonable efforts were made to make the home safe but were unsuccessful.
Read the law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-815, Md. Rule 11-204
NOTE: 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.
Read the law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings §3-816.2
Read the rule: Md. Rule 11-219
The second phase after a CINA petition is filed is the adjudicatory hearing. If the child is in shelter care, the case moves to adjudication within 30 days. The hearing may be postpone, up to an additional 30 days, for good cause.
If the child is not in shelter care, an adjudicatory hearing must be held within 60 days from the service of the CINA petition.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 3-817
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 11-213
During adjudication, the court determines if the facts in the CINA petition are true. The allegations must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. If the court finds that the local DSS 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:
- Find that the child is not in need of assistance, dismiss the case, and return the child to a parent; or
- Request additional assessment for a child with a developmental disability or a mental illness; or
- Place the child in foster care; or
- Award custody and guardianship to a person who can provide proper care for the child.
Read the law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-819
Read the rule: Md. Rule 11-216
If disposition results in a child being placed outside of the home, the court must hold a permanency planning hearing no later than 11 months after the child’s initial removal. At the hearing, the court will determine the permanency plan for a child. The court will determine a permanency plan that is in the best interests of the child. The permanency plan may consist of (in descending order of priority):
- Reunification with the parent or guardian,
- Placement with a relative for adoption, or custody and guardianship,
- Adoption by a nonrelative.
- Custody and guardianship by a nonrelative,
For a child at least 16 years old, the permanency plan will consist of a planned living arrangement that addresses the individual needs of the child. If the child is at least 14 years old, the permanency plan will be based on the services needed to assist the child to make the transition to adulthood.
Read the law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-823
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 11-219
Reasonable efforts to unify a child with the family are a priority. However, the child’s safety and health are the primary concern.
DSS may ask the court to find that reasonable efforts to reunify a child with the child’s parent or guardian are not required if the parent or guardian:
- subjected the child, /a sibling of the child, /or another child in the household, to chronic or severe physical abuse, chronic and life threatening neglect, sexual abuse, or torture;
- failed to take steps to protect the child after a person in the household has inflicted the abuse described in (1) above;
- the child/, sibling of the child, or another child in the household has suffered severe physical abuse or death resulting from abuse by the parent or guardian or another adult in the household and that person remains in the household;
- has abandoned the child; or
- has been convicted of violent crimes against the child, a minor offspring of the parent or guardian, or another parent or guardian of the child
- has involuntarily lost parent rights of a sibling of the child.
If reasonable efforts are waived by the court, a permanency planning hearing must be held within 30 days.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-812
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 11-217
Permanency plan hearings are then held every 6 months until permanency is achieved. Only children 16 or older may have a new planned permanent living arrangement as part of their permanency plan. 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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-812
CINA proceedings are not open to the public. Case records about the child are confidential.
Read the law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings §§ 3-810(b); 3-827
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 11-203
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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-813
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 11-207
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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-818
Other things to note about CINA cases
Parents may voluntarily place a child in DSS custody and may sign a written agreement specifying the legal status of the child and rights and obligations of everyone (the parent, the child, and DSS).
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-811
Before any proceeding concerning a child, the local DSS 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, has the right to be heard at the proceeding.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-816.3
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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 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 Procedure § 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, Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 3-828