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Court decision will help prevent lapses in treatment for children with disabilities transitioning into adult guardianship care

December 21, 2015: Round-the-clock nursing support keeps Dustin R. alive. He has been a ward of the State of Maryland since he was two years old, relying on their care to help manage his profound disabilities. When he began to approach age 21, the juvenile court ordered the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to enter into a plan that ensured that he would continue to receive services necessary for his survival after he aged out of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. But DHMH tried to avoid the order by appealing it. The Court of Special Appeals ruled that the juvenile court’s order could not be enforced because the court had failed to cross out “proposed” in the title of the order, and then dismissed the appeal.

Dustin R. asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to review the decision, arguing that the Court of Special Appeals allowed a minor typographical error to deprive him of life-sustaining relief. He also argued that the juvenile court had the authority to order the State to provide him critical nursing care. The Public Justice Center and allies filed an amicus brief in his support on September 21, asserting that the Maryland legislature empowered juvenile courts to protect children with disabilities against a traumatic loss of necessary services after they turned 21 by making appropriate arrangements for their continued medical care while the court still had jurisdiction over their cases.

On December 21, the Court of Appeals ruled in Dustin R.’s favor. The court held that the juvenile court had the authority to order DHMH to develop and approve a medical care plan to ensure that a child with disabilities would continue to receive clinically appropriate services after transitioning to adult guardianship care. This decision is great news for foster children with disabilities and also for other children under the court’s jurisdiction, as it makes clear the broad scope of the court’s authority.

Thanks to our allies who filed the amicus brief in this case (In re: Adoption/Guardianship of Dustin R.) with us: First Star, Inc., Advocates for Children and Youth, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, the Coalition to Protect Maryland's Children, the Family Tree, the Franklin Law Group, P.C., Hope Forward, Inc., the Law Offices of Darlene A. Wakefield, the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Maryland State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, and Randall & Sonnier, LLC. The brief was principally authored by a WilmerHale team led by Jonathan G. Cedarbaum.

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