Maryland Courts

Family Law Information

Foster Care and Child Protection (CINA - Child in Need of Assistance)

Children who are believed to be at risk because of abuse or neglect should be reported to the Department of Social Services or a call should be made to the child abuse hotline.  While some people because of their jobs are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect, e.g. teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, anyone can call and remain anonymous.

The Department of Social Services must investigate every report.  They will try to help the family stay together by providing assistance or by setting up a meeting with the parents, other family members, or supportive people in the community to make a plan so the family can remain safely together.

A child is removed from his or her parents when the social worker believes there is an imminent risk of harm to the child.  The child may be placed with a relative or in a foster home.  An emergency shelter hearing is held the next day in juvenile court and a  judge or magistrate decides if the child can return to the parents or guardians safely or should remain with a relative or in foster care.  At this hearing the attorney for the Department of Social Services will file a petition with the court alleging that the child is a Child in Need of Assistance, (CINA).

Parents and children are each entitled to be represented by lawyers at this hearing and at all CINA hearings.

A fact finding hearing or adjudication will be held within 30 to 60 days to determine the truth of the statements made by the Department of Social Services about the child’s condition and the acts of the parents which caused the child to be unsafe. The court decides at the disposition hearing  on  the same day or within two weeks, if the child is a CINA, i.e,  a child in need of the court’s assistance.  The judge or master also decides if the child can return to his or her home or will remain with a relative or in a foster care home.

The goal of the courts and the child welfare system is to find a safe , permanent home for children.  The law requires the court to reunify the child with the parents whenever possible.  As long as the child remains out of the home in a temporary placement, the court conducts hearings every six months.

If the court finds that the child cannot be returned to the parents after eighteen months, the judge must consider giving permanent custody to a relative, or asking the Department to file a petition to terminate the parent’s rights so the child can be adopted.