Recently, the Maryland appellate court ruled in the case of a father who appealed the finding that his child was a child in need of assistance (“CINA”). The master had recommended this finding to the court after a hearing in which it was shown that the mother and father failed to give their daughter an emotionally or physically safe environment. The court ordered that temporary custody of the child be given to the child’s maternal grandmother and a couple who had cared for the child in the past and in the present.
The master and the court had discovered some disturbing facts from a Department of Social Services (DSS) investigator before the CINA order was issued. The family lived in a trailer that needed to be repaired. The daughter had lost weight, had been left home alone with the family dog, needed medical care she did not receive, and was in an environment of regular domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
DSS had learned of this family because the daughter had tested positive for the presence of cocaine when she was born. This meant that she was presumed to be not receiving proper care from her mother for one year after her birth and was a CINA.
Even after that year had passed, DSS was alerted to the mother and father’s domestic violence and substance abuse problems. This case arose after these types of allegations were investigated by DSS; the investigator was very uncomfortable with the child being in that home. The parents suggested the maternal grandmother and her friends as potential placements.
The grandmother disclosed that she had taken it upon herself to get the child medical care for a spider bite when necessary, but the parents had not followed through with giving her the medication. She also testified that the parents had poor parenting skills.
The grandmother’s friends had also cared for the child in the past and they, too, testified against the parents, explaining that when the child came back from a visit with the parents she was agitated and unsettled from caffeine, and her hair was matted and she had dirt under her nails — she hadn’t had a bath in some time.
The father also testified and his testimony was in line with the other witnesses, except for denying the allegations about drinking alcohol in excess. The mother didn’t testify.
After the master ruled that their environment was unfit, the mother and father filed joint exceptions and asked for a trial de novo.
Ultimately, the father appealed. The appellate court noted that neglectful behavior could harm a child as much as affirmative acts of abuse. The court has to look at the totality of the circumstances and find the child is a “child in need of assistance” by a preponderance of the evidence.
“Neglect” is defined by statute as leaving a child unattended or failing to give proper care and attention. The appellate court explained that a court may find neglect or abuse even when a child is not seriously harmed, but is placed at risk of serious harm.
The father argued it was error for the circuit court to consider his criminal record and prior alcohol abuse. The appellate court disagreed, noting that the record was filled with evidence of current problems. Although the master and the court could not consider the father’s past court records, it could look at the “context of history” with DSS, including the child’s prior CINA status.
The appellate court affirmed the placement of the child with the grandmother and two other caregivers.
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