Child Protective Cases
Child protection proceedings are heard in the Maine District Court. The purpose of these proceedings is to keep children safe and to help families make a safe home for their children. A protective custody proceeding is not meant to punish parents.
A Judge can require you and your family to get help. Also, a Judge can order that your child be placed in the custody of the Maine Department of Human Services (the "Department"). This means that, for the time being, the Department is legally responsible for your child and, with the approval of the Court, can make decisions about where your child should live and what you need to do to have your child returned to you.
The Maine law governing child protection cases is the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act, 22 M.R.S..§4001 et seq. The governing federal statutes and regulations are the Adoption and Safe Families Act, 42 U.S.C. §670 et seq. and 45 C.F.R. §1356 et seq. Jurisdiction over child protection cases lies with the Maine District Court with any appeals going directly to the Supreme Judicial Court. In 1999, the Supreme Judicial Court adopted a Case Management Procedure for Child Protective Cases. The procedure, which may be found in the Maine Rules of Court, is designed to help the District Court meet its obligations under federal and state law.
The State agency handling child protection cases is the Maine Department of Human Services (hereafter referred to as the Department or DHS). DHS child protective caseworkers help families work toward outcomes that increase their children’s safety, investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, and file Petitions for Child Protection with the court when DHS believes the children are in jeopardy despite the Department’s intervention. DHS children’s services caseworkers are responsible for providing services to parents and children once children have been placed in DHS custody. After a judicial determination of abuse or neglect a children’s services caseworker generally assumes the supervision of the case from the child protective worker. DHS also has adoption workers who are responsible for handling cases following termination of parental rights unless the permanent plan for the child does not involve adoption.
The State is represented in court by the Office of the Attorney General (hereafter referred to as the Assistant Attorney General or A.A.G.). Parents are automatically appointed counsel following the initial filing of a child protection petition with the court. This appointment of counsel is temporary; in order to qualify for continuing court appointed counsel each parent must complete an indigency affidavit and file it with the court. Additionally, when a petition is filed, a Guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child. Court appointed counsel and guardians are paid for by the State after vouchers are submitted. The hourly rate for court appointed counsel is set by the Supreme Judicial Court. Parents who are not found to be indigent or who do not fill out the indigency affidavit must retain their own counsel or proceed on a pro se basis without the assistance of an attorney.
If a finding of abuse and/or neglect (ie., a jeopardy finding) is made by the court, whether by hearing or agreement of the parties, cases must be scheduled for a review at least every six months. Often an earlier review date is set to keep a case on track. For cases in which the parties do not agree as to the existence of jeopardy, the court schedules the case for hearing or trial. In some courts, clerks send out advance notice of potential child protection trial dates so the parties can plan for trials. Other courts simply send out a specific trial list indicating the exact place and time of trial for each case, sometimes with just a few weeks’ notice to the parties. It is an attorney’s obligation to file a request for protection or to file a continuance motion as needed according to deadlines set by the court.