BALTIMORE, MD (April 30, 2014)—The Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) will seek to add new protections to state law guiding the process of reunifying children in foster care with their families. The recommendations put forth today by Secretary Ted Dallas are the result of a DHR review of a recent Frederick County child fatality and are designed to provide the department some additional tools to help protect children.
Federal law requires DHR to consider family reunification as a first choice for a plan for exiting foster care. Local departments of social services may seek a waiver to this rule in court but only if certain criteria listed in state law are met. The department’s review of the death of Anayah Williams on March 14th confirmed that the case did not meet the current criteria for a waiver as defined in state law when Anayah first came into foster care.
“Anayah’s death is a terrible tragedy that has affected all of us in the department. Working together, we can help ensure something like it never happens again and that we can move closer to our goal of a safe and loving home for every Maryland child,” said DHR Secretary Ted Dallas. “The changes we are proposing give the department more flexibility to ask a court to waive reunification in certain circumstances which will help keep more Maryland children safe.”
The department proposes expanding the criteria for seeking a reunification waiver from the court to include two additional factors: child abandonment and aggravated circumstances, which includes subjecting a child or sibling or other children in the household to severe or repetitive conduct of an abusive and/or neglectful nature. Currently, the department cannot request a waiver when a child has suffered an unexplained, serious physical injury unless a parent has been convicted of a crime of violence against the child (or the other parent), or the child was sexually or chronically abused, or subject to chronic and life-threatening neglect.
Over the next several months, Secretary Dallas will be engaging with legislators, child advocates and the community in a discussion to solicit feedback and build consensus and support for legislation to be introduced during the next session of the General Assembly in 2015. The first of these meetings will take place next week with current and former county foster parents who have expressed concerns about the case.
The parents of Anayah Williams, 2, have been criminally charged with her beating death. Anayah came into foster care Sept. 2, 2012, as a result of a previous hospitalization. The Frederick County Department of Social Services’ investigation of that incident did not find sufficient evidence to show who was responsible for inflicting Anayah’s injuries and no one was criminally charged or prosecuted by local authorities. As a result, the case did not meet the current criteria for waiving reunification.
A draft of the department’s proposal is attached. To view the full proposal, please click here.