Foster Care & Adoption Under Maryland Family Law
Foster care is an out-of-home placement program that enables the State of Maryland to assume child custody in certain situations. This program delivers short-term care and other services to children subjected to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. As foster care is meant to be a temporary program, foster children are typically returned to their natural family or placed for adoption.
Eligibility & Purpose of Foster Care
Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-525 provides the duties and purposes of the foster care program. Under this section, out-of-home placement in foster care is open to any minor child:
- Placed in the State’s custody for a maximum of 180 days by a parent or legal guardian;
- Subjected to abuse, neglect, or abandonment, if a juvenile court finds that doing so would be in the child’s best interests; or
- Approved for out-of-home placement under special considerations for children with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses.
Under this section, the purpose of the foster care is to:
- Provide family reunification services to foster care children, in the hope of safely and appropriately returning the child to their natural parents;
- Develop and implement a permanency plan that aligns with the child’s best interests; and
- Deliver annual training programs for voluntary placement of children with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses.
Permanency Plans for Foster Care
Under Section 5-525, a permanency plan is a long-term plan for any child subject to foster care. If consistent with the best interests of the child involved, the following permanency plans are permissible and rated in descending order of priority:
- Returning the child to their parent or guardian, unless the State is the child’s guardian;
- Placing the child with family relatives who plan to adopt, take custody of, or serve as guardian;
- Placing the child for adoption with a current foster parent who has established positive relationships or family ties over the course of 12 months or otherwise;
- Placing the child for adoption with another approved family; or
- If the child is at least 16 years old, creating a separate, permanent living arrangement that addresses the child’s specific needs and promotes continuity of family relationships.
In establishing a permanency plan, above all else, the State must consider the best interests of the child involved. To ensure that a permanency plan meets the child’s best interests, the following factors are essential under Section 5-525:
- Safety and healthiness of living at home with the natural parents;
- Emotional ties and attachment to the natural parents and siblings;
- Emotional ties and attachment to the current caregiver and the caregiver’s family;
- Duration of time the child has resided with their current caregiver;
- Potential emotional, developmental, or educational harm the child could suffer if moved from their current placement; and
- Potential harm the child could suffer if they remain in the State’s custody for an extended period of time.
Adoption of Foster Child
Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-525.1 creates the rules for adoption of foster children. Under this section, adoption of a foster child is possible, if a placement agency determines that doing so is in the child’s best interests.
In order to adopt a foster child, it is necessary to terminate existing parental rights. The Maryland courts usually will consider a petition to terminate parental rights if:
- The child has lived in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months;
- A court determines that child is an abandoned infant; or
- The child’s parent is convicted of certain crimes of violence or aiding and abetting such a crime of violence.
Upon termination of the existing parental rights, the State assumes responsibility for identifying, recruiting, processing, and approving a qualified family for adoption or similar placement.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about adoption, it’s important to contact a skilled Bel Air child custody attorney. Reach out to Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered for help today.