Abused children entitled to adjudicatory hearing, top court rules

The Court of Appeals held yesterday that  child alleged to be a child in need of assistance (CINA) should have been afforded an adjudicatory hearing for the consideration of allegations of neglect in a CINA petition, notwithstanding a request for dismissal by the local department of social services (DSS) that was made with the consent of the child’s parents. The juvenile court erred in ruling that DSS, as the CINA petitioner, had a unilateral right to dismiss its petition, over the child’s objection and hearing request. This ruling was error in light of Maryland Code, the top court held.

The ruling is being hailed as a major victory for abused and neglected children–and for Maryland Legal Aid, which represented the client, Natasha B.

“It stands for the premise the DSS can not unilaterally dismiss a case over the objection of the child,” said Joan Little, chief attorney of Child Advocacy Unit in Baltimore.  “The case clarifies that once a petition is filed with the court, the court then takes on the duty to protect the interests of children which stems from the court’s parens patriae jurisdiction.  Once the court has jurisdiction, it must make findings as to the truth of the allegations in the petition.  If the allegations are true, the court may go on to find the child CINA and issue an order including a designation of placement and any necessary services.  If the allegations are not true, the court may then dismiss the case.”

“The decision in Najasha B. will result in the end of the court’s practice of accepting the DSS’ requests for dismissal and it requires the court to have a full hearing on the merits of every case to determine whether the alleged facts are true,” Little continued. “A judicial determination of the truth of the allegations in a case affords greater protection for our child clients than the dismissal of a case by the department that may be based on a policy that does not support the best interests of the child before the court.

“Even children who do not wish to be in the court system benefit from the court’s resolution of the truth of the allegations, because once adjudicated, those facts can not be re-litigated if the child’s case comes to the attention of the court a second time,” Little added.

The case, In Re: Najasha B., was handled by staff attorney Meredith Esders.

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