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CINA Cases in Maryland: What Are They, and How Do They Work?

In Maryland, just like in any other state, child abuse and neglect are treated as serious matters that can carry equally severe consequences. While these are considered legitimate crimes that can be addressed in criminal court, separate intervention by the court system is often needed to ensure the safety of any children involved. This court intervention is known as a “Child in Need of Assistance” (or “CINA”) case, and they serve as the primary line of legal defense to protect children who’ve been abused, neglected, or have a developmental disability or mental disorder, and whose parents, guardian, or custodian cannot or will not provide proper care.

As stated above, the primary goal of the CINA process is to ensure the safety and well-being of the child while trying to keep families together whenever possible, NOT to criminally prosecute any instances of child abuse or neglect.

Here is an outline of the typical steps involved in a Maryland CINA case:

  1. Report and Investigation: When someone observes or suspects an instance of child abuse or neglect, they’ll report it to their local Department of Social Services (DSS), which will launch an investigation into the claim.
  2. Petition Filing: If DSS determines that the child or children need legitimate assistance, they’ll file a formal CINA petition with the juvenile court system for the county where the child lives.
  3. Shelter Care Hearing: If the child needs immediate protection, a “shelter care hearing” is held to determine if the child should be temporarily removed from the home and placed in the protection of the state to ensure their safety. This hearing occurs within 24 hours of the child’s removal.
  4. Adjudicatory Hearing: This is a particularly important step in the CINA process, as the adjudicatory hearing is held for the purpose of the court formally determining whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are substantiated. These typically occur within 30 days of the initial petition being filed.
  5. Disposition Hearing: If the court does find the child to be a CINA, a disposition hearing is held to decide on the child’s placement and the services needed by the child and family. This may include placing the child in foster care or with a relative and ordering additional services like counseling or parenting classes.
  6. Review Hearings: Periodic review hearings are conducted to monitor the child’s situation and the parents’ progress towards meeting the court-ordered conditions. The goal is usually reunification, if it is safe and feasible.
  7. Permanency Planning Hearing: This hearing, held within a year of the child entering foster care, establishes a long-term plan for the child’s placement. Options can include reunification, adoption, guardianship, or another planned permanent living arrangement.

 

As mentioned above, the CINA process is not designed to permanently “tear children away” from their parents the second a petition is filed. It’s meant to balance the child’s immediate safety with the goal of family reunification, whenever it is in the child’s best interest.

While a CINA case is often an extremely stressful and emotionally charged process, they’re vitally important as a means of protecting victims of child abuse & neglect through court intervention.

However, just because the CINA process has clearly defined steps and stages does not make them straightforward or simplistic cases. They can often be very complicated, involving multiple hearings and government agencies, and the complexity is only increased if there’s more than one child involved. These cases also move very quickly, so it’s important to retain an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.

For that reason, just like with any court case, it’s best to seek the advice and representation of an experienced, knowledgeable family law attorney who can help guide you along your legal journey, answering questions, handling the complex paperwork, and fiercely defending your best interests in and out of the courtroom.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.

JC Law has been representing Marylanders in CINA, divorce, custody, child support, and other family law cases for over 30 years, and we’re more than ready to lend our expertise to your situation.

If you or a loved one are dealing with a CINA or other family law case, don’t waste any time and call us TODAY at (888) JCLAW-10 for a free, one-on-one consultation with a member of our team. If you’d prefer to meet with us at your convenience, click here to reserve a phone, video, or in-person consultation.

Remember, at JC Law, we aren’t just your lawyer. We’re your legal ally.