Montgomery County Department of Social Services v. Sanders

38 Md. App. 406, 381 A.2d 1154 (1977)

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Montgomery County Department of Social Services v. Sanders

Maryland Court of Special Appeals
38 Md. App. 406, 381 A.2d 1154 (1977)

Facts

Edwin and Rebecca Sanders (defendants) had a son, Christopher Sanders. When Christopher was 10 months old, he got sick, and Rebecca took him to the hospital. Doctors discovered extensive evidence of battered-child syndrome. Montgomery County Department of Social Services (MCDSS) (plaintiff) petitioned the juvenile court to have Christopher declared to be a child in need of assistance. The court placed temporary custody with MCDSS, which placed Christopher with a foster family. Evidence at subsequent adjudicatory and disposition hearings established that Edwin, not Rebecca, had abused Christopher, and the court ordered Christopher’s custody to remain with MCDSS. Rebecca worked towards becoming an independent single mother by entering counseling, separating from Edwin, undertaking studies in child development, and working in childcare. Rebecca secured housing and childcare for Christopher and found a pediatrician who specialized in treating abused children. Rebecca then filed a petition to modify the court’s order to return Christopher to her custody. MCDSS strongly opposed the modification because MCDSS was a proponent of the psychological-parent (PP) theory. According to the PP theory, a young child would lose his attachment to his birth parent and form a bond to his foster parent after two months in foster care, meaning that the foster parent would become the child’s PP, and removing the child from the foster parent’s care would cause emotional trauma to the child. MCDSS’s position, therefore, was that Christopher should never return to Rebecca’s custody despite Rebecca’s self-improvement and preparations for Christopher’s return. The juvenile court was skeptical of the PP theory because it would disallow the return of a child to the custody of his birth parents, regardless of an improvement in their circumstances. The court found that the facts in Christopher’s case did not support the application of the theory and that, considering the totality of the circumstances, Christopher’s best interests were served by his return to Rebecca’s custody. The court modified its custody order accordingly. MCDSS appealed, arguing that the juvenile court abused its discretion in refusing to apply the PP theory to the exclusion of considering other factors to determine Christopher’s best interests. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a stay until it announced its opinion.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gilbert, C.J.)

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