New state guardian­ship rules seek to pro­tect mi­nors

Ad­verse im­mi­gra­tion ac­tion now a rea­son to des­ig­nate ‘standby’

The Enterprise - - News - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­[email protected]­news.com Twit­ter: @PaulIndyNews

New rules govern­ing the ap­point­ment of guardians by Mary­land’s courts in­clude a pro­vi­sion that al­lows par­ents fac­ing de­ten­tion or de­por­ta­tion on fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion charges to des­ig­nate a guardian for their chil­dren.

The courts adopted the rules fol­low­ing the pas­sage of an emer­gency law last year that added “ad­verse im­mi­gra­tion ac­tion” to the list of rea­sons why a par­ent could des­ig­nate a so­called standby guardian in their ab­sence.

The pack­age of rules adopted by the courts re­lated to standby guardian­ships per­mit the ap­point­ment of an in­ves­ti­ga­tor to ex­am­ine a pe­ti­tion for guardian­ship of a mi­nor or their prop­erty and re­quire hear­ings for all pe­ti­tions for a court-ap­pointed standby guardian. They also re­quire standby guardians to com­ply with an­nual re­port­ing re­quire­ments that ap­ply to other types of court-ap­pointed guardians.

The new rules for standby guardian­ships went into ef­fect Jan. 1.

At­tor­ney Nisa C. Subas­inghe, who man­ages the do­mes­tic and guardian­ship pro­gram for the state’s Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice of the Courts, said the court adopted the rules ac­tively, not in re­sponse to any spe­cific cases or in­ci­dents.

“It’s about mak­ing sure the process is the same across the state,” Subas­inghe said.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study by the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a non­par­ti­san pol­icy or­ga­ni­za­tion in Wash­ing­ton, be­tween 2009 and 2013 there were ap­prox­i­mately 90,000 chil­dren younger than 18 liv­ing in Mary­land whose par­ents were unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants, rep­re­sent­ing 28 per­cent of chil­dren of all im­mi­grants in the state dur­ing those years.

The emer­gency leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced in last year’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly by Sen. Wil­liam C. Smith Jr. (D-Mont­gomery County) and Del. Carlo Sanchez (D-Prince Ge­orge’s) and ap­proved by Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) fol­low­ing the end of the ses­sion.

Bethesda-based at­tor­ney Cam Crock­ett, who tes­ti­fied be­fore the state leg­is­la­ture and the court’s rules com­mit­tee on be­half of ex­tend­ing standby guardian­ship to chil­dren of par­ents fac­ing ad­verse im­mi­gra­tion ac­tion, said the new rules are “ex­tremely ben­e­fi­cial to the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity” as well as to guardian­ship li­ai­son staff in courts across the state.

“The new rules ad­dress the im­por­tant ques­tion of whether the standby guardian is serv­ing in the best in­ter­est of the child,” Crock­ett said in an email.

Crock­ett ex­plained that the rules re­quire standby guardians to pro­vide a state­ment from the child’s pri­mary health care provider, re­cent school re­ports, and any court records per­tain­ing to the child.

“These [records] al­low the court to be bet­ter in­formed as to the best in­ter­est of the child at an early level in the pro­ceed­ings,” Crock­ett said.

In ad­di­tion to the rules for standby guardian­ship, on Jan. 1 the court also adopted new rules to speed up the process of hear­ing pe­ti­tions for guardians of dis­abled peo­ple need­ing non-emer­gency med­i­cal treat­ment.

“The rea­son why these rules were put into place is be­cause the way the court de­ter­mines how quickly to have a hear- ing ... varies across the state,” Subas­inghe said. “These rules … cre­ate some con­sis­tency in terms of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing struc­ture for how courts hear these cases and how quickly.”

The stream­lined process will help shorten hos­pi­tal stays for dis­abled peo­ple, re­duc­ing their so­cial iso­la­tion and risk of in­fec­tion, while also en­sur­ing their rights are pro­tected.

“It’s the same process, we’re just try­ing to get con­sis­tency in terms of how and when courts hear these cases,” Subas­inghe said.

These new rules are de­signed to pre­pare the courts for an ex­pected up­swing in guardian­ship ap­pli­ca­tions as the state’s el­derly pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau, by 2030 a fifth of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion will be re­tire­ment age, out­num­ber­ing chil­dren younger than 18 for the first time.

In Novem­ber, the U.S. Se­nate Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on Aging re­leased a re­port call­ing for im­prove­ments in the way courts over­see their guardian­ship pro­grams and called for ad­di­tional in­vest­ment by state and fed­eral agen­cies in guardian­ship pro­grams and al­ter­na­tives to help meet the an­tic­i­pated in­crease in de­mand.

“These are very im­por­tant cases for us, and with the 65-and-plus pop­u­la­tion in­creas­ing, we’re try­ing to get ahead of that and make sure we’re pre­pared for that in­flux of cases,” Subas­inghe said.

A third set of rules that also went into ef­fect, which changed some of the pro­ce­du­ral re­quire­ments for guardian­ship hear­ings, will make it eas­ier for peo­ple who can’t af­ford to hire an at­tor­ney when seek­ing a court-ap­pointed guardian.

“Guardian­ship cases are very com­plex, and they should be be­cause at the end of the day some­one is los­ing their rights,” Subas­inghe said.

“At­tor­neys … are aware of court pro­cesses and how to make re­quests and things like that, and to some ex­tent a lay per­son is at a dis­ad­van­tage. As in any [le­gal] sit­u­a­tion, you have an ad­van­tage if you do have a lawyer. We don’t want to pre­vent peo­ple from seek­ing guardian­ship be­cause they can’t af­ford it.”

In­for­ma­tion about guardian­ship pro­grams for mi­nors and dis­abled adults is avail­able on the Mary­land Courts web­site at www.courts.state.md.us.

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