Reunification Efforts in Maryland Child Custody

When a Maryland child is removed from a parent’s care and custody, the department of social services has a statutory obligation to make reasonable efforts to reunify the child with the parent. However, there are cases in which a parent’s inability to recognize and seek treatment for his or her problems can result in those reunification efforts getting terminated.

In a recent case a mother appealed from an order permitting the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (“BCDSS”) to stop making reunification efforts between the mother and her daughter. The mother had five children and a long history with BSDSS. This case involved her youngest child, but she had previously brought her son to the hospital to be hospitalized. Instead, she was evaluated and hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.

The Circuit Court found that her son and an older daughter were children in need of assistance (CINA) and took them out of her custody and placed them with the mother’s parents. The mother had only sporadic contact with her son after that and he turned 21 without reunification.

The mother’s parental rights with two daughters were terminated after a contested hearing. The mother was subsequently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. A doctor opined that she was not likely to be able to provide an environment of adequate safety and emotional stability.

In 2000, the mother met and became romantically involved with an abusive man. She married him anyway, hoping that her marriage would make it less likely her youngest daughter would be removed from her care. However, they never lived together.

When the youngest daughter was three, she fell and hurt her lip. The mother took her to the ER. She became hysterical and abusive. A social worker took her somewhere to calm down. She reported she had been subject to domestic violence. Her daughter seemed to be afraid of her.

The hospital referred her to support services for her and her youngest daughter. The mother had never enrolled her in mental health services. In 2007, BCDSS filed a petition for shelter care for the youngest daughter. Shortly after the birth of the woman’s son, BCDSS initiated getting shelter for him too. The juvenile court authorized the daughter’s placement in shelter care but denied the initial request for shelter care for the son.

The petitions were dismissed without prejudice at the request of BCDSS once the mother complied with court orders. In 2009, the mother was seen hitting her baby son on the back. The police were called and a CPS report was filed. BCDSS found no neglect, but based on the mother’s statement of being overwhelmed, placed the kids in shelters.

The court ordered the daughter to be in a shelter, but denied shelter care for the son, ordering that she not use physical discipline against her son. A social worker later visited the mother, who stated in front of her daughter that she was an “evil devil.”

The children’s attorney filed a motion for review of the CINA petitions. The court ordered the children be placed in shelter care. During a supervised visit, the mother made threats to kill a BCDSS family preservation worker, scaring her child. BCDSS offered the mother mental health services and parenting classes to work towards reunification. But the mother declined and said she had no mental health issues. She also sent 2000 emails to BCDSS in protest of their involvement.

The Master recommended finding that the daughter be found a CINA. The mother filed exceptions. The court dismissed the petitions. But after further reports of abuse by the mother and violent behavior by her, further juvenile court proceedings were held. The court found the daughter to be a CINA and that BCDSS had tried to reunify the daughter with her mother, but the mother failed to cooperate. The mother had not been amenable to mental health treatment because she didn’t believe mental illness existed. Her rage had been emotionally injurious to her kids.

After finding that BCDSS had made reasonable efforts to achieve the permanency plan of reunification, the court changed the permanency plan to a concurrent plan of reunification and relative placement for custody and guardianship. In the meantime, the mother continued to act erratically. BCDSS asked the court to waive the reunification requirement and asked for a permanent placement plan. The judge granted the motion, finding there was nothing else BCDSS could do for the family. The mother appealed.

The appellate court explained that under CJP section 3-812(d) the court can find reasonable efforts at reunification are not required if the department concludes the parent has done certain things. The list of things included subjecting a child to chronic abuse and involuntarily losing parental rights of a child’s sibling.

The appellate court explained that when one of the statutory conditions on the list exists, including a parent involuntarily losing parental rights to a sibling, the court is required to grant a motion. In this case, the circuit court was required to waive the obligation of BCDSS.

If you are dealing with sensitive child custody issues, contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation. Our office may be able to help you through this difficult time.

More Blogs:

Dissipation of Marital Funds in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 26, 2013

Neglect in Maryland Family Law Cases, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 12, 2013


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