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Governor Larry Hogan Establishes New Workgroup to Study Child Custody Court Proceedings Involving Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations

Unique Workgroup To Utilize Trauma-Informed Decision Making

ANNAPOLIS, MD—Governor Larry Hogan has announced the establishment of a new workgroup, uniquely focused on utilizing evidence-based, trauma-informed practices, to consider how child custody court proceedings involving child abuse or domestic violence allegations are affecting Maryland children. Today, workgroup members – including several Maryland legislators, parents impacted by current family court practices, as well as domestic violence, child abuse, and recognized custody experts and organizations – met in the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis to hear ground breaking research regarding the adjudication of these cases. The group is chaired by Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith.

“As the Secretary of State administering the Address Confidentiality Program for victims of domestic violence, I am appalled to learn of the unnecessary challenges that a large percentage of our program participants face while navigating through custody court proceedings,” said Secretary Wobensmith. “These participants represent just a handful of parents, unfortunately, who experience the trauma of abuse, and we are dedicated to working with the experts in this workgroup to achieve common sense practices that will ultimately change and save lives.” 

This new workgroup began as a result of Governor Larry Hogan directing new, trauma-informed practices be implemented across Maryland, such as the Handle With Care programThis workgroup is also based on a heightened awareness of a troublesome epidemic, where evidence suggests children and the protective parent are not seen as credible when reporting abuse because the family is in the midst of a custody proceeding. Outcomes from these cases are impacting the future of our children, and in some cases have resulted in death.

“The potential impact of the outcomes from this unique workgroup are monumental for hurting Maryland families,” said Anne Hoyer, Director of the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program and founder of the workgroup. “We must work together and focus our efforts on making long overdue changes that will ultimately help ensure the safety, healing, and well-being of our children.”

During today’s workgroup meeting, Joan Meier, Professor of Clinical Law for George Washington Law and Legal Director of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment & Appeals Project, presented the results of research utilizing regression analysis to examine how an alienation defense, gender, and the presence of a guardian ad litem affects abuse adjudications in family courts. Key findings include that with current judicial practices, children may have a higher risk of having to stay with the allegedly abusive parent after a custody proceeding.

“Courts and the entire state apparatus should do everything in their power to reduce the likelihood that children are placed with abusive parents,” said Maryland Senator Susan Lee, who sponsored the original legislation creating the workgroup. “This workgroup will explore best practices to identify trauma behavior and mitigate preventable, life-altering harm.”

The workgroup is a product of Senate Bill 567sponsored by Senator Lee, signed by Governor Hogan, which tasks the workgroup to examine issues that arise as these cases move through the justice system. The work group will discuss how to incorporate the latest research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in their processes and decision-making, and make recommendations to Governor Hogan and the General Assembly about how state courts should move forward with policies and practices that help ensure the safety and well-being of children and other victims of domestic violence.

The next meeting will be held in July. The first legislative report is due on December 1, 2019. For more information, visit this link.