CINA – Child in Need of Assistance

In some circumstances, it is appropriate for a court to assess whether a  Child is In Need of Assistance. This is referred to as a CINA case.  A Child in Need of Assistance requires the Court’s intervention because there is neglect, abuse or a developmental disability/ mental disorder AND the parents/ guardian/ custodian are unable or unwilling to provide proper care.  To persuade the Court that a child as one that is in need of assistance, the Department of Social Services must prove that the child has been neglected or abused;  or has a mental disorder or a developmental disability and that the child’s parents, custodian, or guardian have neglected to provide proper care and attention to the child’s needs.

The CINA Hearing

Allegations are not sufficient!  A court hearing is required to determine whether the allegations in the Department of Social Services’ Petition are true and whether the child really does require the Court’s intervention.   In a CINA case, the court’s goal is to ensure a permanent placement is made for the child that is in the child’s best interests. Ideally, a child will only be separated from his or her parents if it is necessary for the child’s welfare.  In addition, the law gives priority to placing the child with his or her relatives rather than non-relatives whenever possible.   The initiation of a CINA Petition, removal of a child from his or her home or any Court hearing is often the best time for a parent or guardian to obtain and most benefit from the assistance of an attorney- as early in the case as possible.

The Four Stages of a CINA Case

A CINA Case has four different stages.  The first stage is the shelter care hearing-  to determine whether removal of the child from the child’s home is warranted.  After the local Department of Social Services has filed a CINA petition, a shelter care hearing will take place where a number of facts must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to warrant a child’s removal.   During the shelter care hearing, if the court determines that an emergency situation exists which makes it against the child’s welfare to remain in his or her home and removal is necessary for the child’s safety, the court  may place the child in shelter care.  Alternatively, if there is a suitable other family member it is usually preferable for family placement rather than shelter care placement.    Shelter Care is a temporary measure not meant to last for indefinite periods of time.

The second stage is the adjudication hearing–  a hearing to determine primarily whether the allegations in the Department of Social Services’ Petition are true.  The child MUST be provided his or her own representation.   Parents and other appropriate people will have an opportunity to be heard. The Court will hear testimony, review evidence and make a decision.   If the Department of Social Services fails to prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence, the Court will dismiss the case.  However, if there is sufficient evidence after the adjudicatory hearing, the case will proceed to the disposition phase.   If the child has been placed in shelter care, the case will proceed to an adjudication hearing within the next 30 days. If the child has not been placed in shelter care, this will be extended to 60 days from the service of the original petition. During the adjudication hearing, the court will hear evidence and decide if the facts as set forth in the CINA petition are true.

The third stage is the disposition hearing– to determine if the child is in need of assistance and the type of intervention necessary by the court to protect the child.  If the court concludes that the Department of Social Services has proven the allegations in the Petition, the case will move to the disposition stage.  The disposition hearing often takes place on the same date as the adjudication hearing, immediately after the Court renders its decision on whether the Department of Social Services has proved its case.  Depending on the court’s conclusion, the court may order that the child shall be returned to the parent under certain conditions, place the child in foster care, or decide to award guardianship and custody to another parent, family member  or other suitable person who is able to provide proper and suitable care to the child.  A discretionary review hearing may also be conducted by the court, to review the status of the case and determine whether the conditions of the disposition should be changed.

The fourth stage is the Permanency Planning hearing- to determine the permanent plan for the child.  If the child has been placed in an out of home placement,  the court is required to hold a permanency planning hearing within one year of that child’s out of home placement.   This is the final stage of a CINA Case.  At this hearing, the court reviews the plan created for permanent living conditions for the child. The court may then choose to order that the child be returned to the custody of the parent or that the child should be placed with a relative, or something else. The court could also conclude that the child should live with a non-relative for either adoption or custody or may determine that another planned permanent living arrangement is best for the child.

There are many factors that the court considers when deciding whether a Child is In Need of Assistance. Feel free to call for assistance if you and a family member are involved in or affected by the filing of a CINA petition.  Attorney Geralyn R. Lawrence may be reached at the Law Office of Geralyn R. Lawrence, 9701 Apollo Drive, Suite 301, Upper Marlboro, MD  20774.  Call Today!  We can help! (301) 925-2525.