In Re: Ashley E.

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In re Ash ley E., Lai one D ., Matth ew B ., and Gregory B.-G., No. 90, September Term 2004. Evidence. Application of the Maryland Rules of Evidence Maryland Rules 5-101 (c) and 11-115 Application of the Maryland Rules of Evidence in Permanency Planning Hearings. Maintaining confidentiality in child abuse cases. Under Maryland Rule 5-101 (c), providing for the discretionary strict application of the Rules of Evidence in disposition hearings under Maryland Rule 11-1 15, the juve nile court is no t required to strictly apply the Rules of Evidence in permanency plannin g hearings, which a re dispos itional in nature. Juvenile court did not err in perm itting Depa rtment of S ocial Servic es employee s who w ere privy to confidential informatio n at issue to rem ain in the co urtroom d uring hearin g in which allegatio ns of c hild abu se wer e discu ssed. IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND No. 90 September Term 2004 __________________________________ IN RE : ASH LEY E., LA IONE D., MATTHEW B., AND GREGORY B.-G. __________________________________ Bell, C.J. Raker Wilner Cathell Harrell Battaglia Greene JJ. Opinion by Battaglia, J. Filed: May 17, 2005 This case arises out of a permanency planning hearing held on October 1, 2003, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, sitting as a juvenile court. We are asked to determine whether permanency planning hearings under Maryland C ode (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article are a form of disposition hearing under Maryland Rule 11-115, in which the application o f the rules of evidence are discretionary and informal, or whether the rules of evidence must be applied during permanency planning hearings. Also we are asked to address whether employees of a local department of social services, who are not presently involved in the case before the court, but were previously, can be present during otherwise confidential juvenile court proceedings. Because we find that a permanency planning hearing is a type of disposition hearing as described by Maryland Rule 11-115d., we hold that the Maryland Rules of evidence apply informally to such hearings in accordance with Maryland Rule 5-101 (c). Moreover, we conclude that the juven ile court did not commit error in permitting the department employees to remain in the courtroom during the proceedings. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals. Facts 1 The children, who are the su bject of the permane ncy planning hearing at issue, are Gregory B.-G., born August 6, 1993, now eleven years old; Matthew B., born August 26, 1994, now ten years old; Laione D., born December 6, 1995, now nine years old; and Ashley 1 Many of the following facts were recited in the opinion of the Court of Special Appeals, although w e have ex ercised our license to ad d or delete sp ecific facts where appropriate. E., born November 24, 1997, now seven years old.2 Petitioner is the children s biological mother, Ms. B., and has identified various putative fathers for the children. Ms. B. and the children first became involved with the C hild Welf are Service s Unit of the Montgom ery County Department of Health And Human Services ( the Department ) in August of 2001 while residing in Rockville, Maryland. Although it did not eventuate, Ms. B. contacted the Department seeking assistance in caring for the children because she anticipated being incarcerated due to an outstanding warrant. In October of 2001, the Department helped Ms. B. in making arrangements for her children while she resolved the warrant issue. In November of 2001, Ms. B. and the children became homeless, and she once again sought help from the Department. The Department arranged for temporary shelter, medical treatment for Gregory for a mass in his larynx, and foster care for the children when Ms. B. was hospitalized for complications of a pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage. On January 31, 2002, Laione, then six years of age, informed her first grade teacher that her dad had pushed [her] down and stuck a . . . beer bottle in [her] butthole. The teacher immediately reported the s uspected c hild sexual a buse to the D epartmen t s Child 2 The juvenile court granted an uncontested termination of parental rights with respect to Ashley E. an d Laione D. on N ovembe r 2, 2004. A contested te rmination o f parental rig hts hearing concerning Matthew B., which occurred over a period of several days, was concluded on Octo ber 1, 2004 . The juven ile court is hold ing its ruling in that case sub curia . On August 31, 2004, the permanency plan for Gregory B.-G. was changed to Another Permanent Living Arrangement. Therefore, the appeal is moot as to Ashley and Laione; however, because the issues raised by this appeal cannot be described as a pplyi ng to one child bu t not ano ther, ou r analysis re mains u nchan ged. 2 Protective Services unit. According to her teacher, Laione was very upset and crying when she revealed the abuse and demonstrated the position in which she was restrained when she was abused. Moreover, Laione had been having problems at school due to exhibiting sexually inappr opriate b ehavio r. The teacher also repo rted that Laione wo re dirty clothes to school, had an unplea sant odor due to a lack of proper hygiene, and regularly urinated or defec ated on herself , usually im media tely prior to leaving schoo l to return home . A social worker from the Department interviewed Laione. Using anatomically correct dolls, Laione d emonstra ted that a male, whom she identified as Sean, had put his pen is in her mouth. She also described her mother s sexual activities, and in doing so, spontan eously got on the cot in the interview room and imitated her mother s actions and noises when engag ed in se xual ac tivity. The next day, at the request of the social worker, Ms. B. brought all of the children to the Department to be interviewed. During that interview, Laione recanted her prior statements and denied having sa[id] anything about penises in the mouth the day before, but then co ntinued to talk ab out As hley and Grego ry sexing . Gregory denied any sexual contact with his sister, but demonstrated a horsie game he played with the girls, which had sexual overtones.3 At the social worker s direction, Ms. B. took the children to the Sexual Abuse and 3 Matthew and Ashley were not interviewed that day because the children were too tired to continue. 3 Assault Center at Shady Gro ve Hospital to be examined. Laione s physical examination revealed signs of chronic vaginal penetration and that the circumference around the anus and the area aro und the va ginal opening [were] colored with . . . magic marker. The forensic nurse, who conducted the examination, concluded, from the precision of the markings and the fact that they would have caused pain, that they were not self-inflicted. Laione repeated her previous statement that Sean had put a beer bottle in her butthole ; she later stated that a glass had been in serted. She denied having sex with anyone, saying, Nobody s ever se xed m e beca use I m too ugl y. She repo rted that Gre gory had do ne nasty stuff a nd that A shley had stopp ed doin g that na sty stuff. When the social worker con fronted Ms. B. about the children s medical and behavioral problems, Ms. B . denied them and b ecame angry and defensive. She blamed the children s problems on the schoo l system and told the social w orker that sh e was go ing to leave the country. After the initial investigation, the social worker contacted Ms. B. three or four times and scheduled three appo intments fo r Ms. B. to bring Ash ley and Ma tthew to be interviewed; however, Ms. B. failed to comply. Ms. B. continued to complain about the ongoing nature of the investigation and expressed irritation at the Department s continued involvem ent. When the social work er attempted to accom modate M s. B. s work schedule when setting u p appo intmen ts, Ms. B . did not respon d. During this period, M s. B. was in volved se xually with two men : Bi g Gr egory and Mo nte, Ashley s putative father. When Ms. B. told the social worker that the men no 4 longer had contact with the children, the Department transferred the case to the intensive family se rvices u nit, whi ch prov ided a p arent aid e sever al times a week . That arrangement was in effect until April 22, 2002, when Laione made another sexual abuse disclosure to her teach er. Laione stated that she had seen her mother sexing it up with two men in the bathroom , and wh en the three adults mov ed to another roo m to do it harder, her mother told her to come join in and watch Big Gregory perform a sex act upon her. Laione quoted her mother, using sexually explicit adult language that would not be in the ordinary vocabulary of a young child. When Laione s teacher suggested that they speak to the schoo l counselor, Laione screamed and begged the teacher not to tell for fear that Ms. B. w ould kill her. L aione also revealed that Big Grego ry had banged Gre gory s head a gainst th e wall. That day, the teacher made a second report of sexual abuse to the Child Protective Services unit, and the children were placed in emergency shelter care and interviewed. Laione was fea rful at first, saying that what had occurred w as a secret that she w as afraid to tell and that it was none of the social worker s business . She then spelled out the w ord sex and described her mother and Big Gregory and Monte in the bathroom . . . sexing with their clothes off. She talked about a time when Ms. B. and Big Gregory were in bed and Ms. B., seeing her in the room, asked her to join in and perform a sex act. Once again, Laione quoted her mother, using sexually explicit, age inappropriate language. She also described seeing G regory in the closet with Ashley, sexing, and said that afterward Ashley 5 complained, My poo-poo hurts. When intervie wed, A shle y, then four years old, said that Big Gregory was licking everybody s stomach and that he would lick Ms . B. s breasts. S he also use d sexually explicit adult language when describing Big Gregory s conduct. During his interview, Gre gory, then nine years old, again demonstrated the horsie game and said that Ashley had touched h is private parts but he only had touched her through her clothing. When asked where he had learned such behavior, he stated that he had observed Ms. B. and Big Gregory having sex in a hotel ro om in w hich the two ad ults and four ch ildren w ere staying . Matthew, who was seven years old at the time, denied that he had been sexually abused, but told the social worker that he had seen Gregory touching Lae-Lae s [Laione s] poo-poo and her butt with his hand and mouth. He also stated that when he told his mother what he had w itnessed, she whippe d Gregory and Laione. Gregory later to ld Matthew that Ms. B . had said n ot to tell our bu siness. M atthew told the social worker about dreaming that something would come down from the sky and take him away. He also talked about an imaginary bad brother, whom he referred to as Invisible Gregory. After the interview ended, the social worker found Matthew crouching behind a door in the waiting room, claim ing that Inv isible Greg ory had take n money fro m his poc ket. When Ms. B. was informed of the children s statements, she stated that she was not surprised about the sexual activity between them, because Matthew had informed her about it and that she told them that it was inappropriate. She also acknowledged that there was an 6 episode when the children walked in on her having sex and a tim e when Laione w alked in and saw her performing fellatio on Monte. On April 23, 2002, the Circuit Court for Montg omery Cou nty, sitting as the juve nile court, held an emergency shelter care 4 hearing and committed the children to the Department for foster care placement. Ms. B. agreed to drop off medication for Matthew the following day, but did not do so, and also failed to give the Department forms so they could access the children s med ical reco rds. Sub sequ ently, based on allegations of fact derived from the children s interviews, the Department filed Child In Need of Assistance ( CINA )5 petitions for all four children. The 4 Shelter care means a tempora ry placemen t of a child outside of the home at any time before disposition. Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), § 3-801(w) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. A shelter care hearing means a hearing held before disposition to determine whether the temporary placement of the child outside the home is warra nted. Md. Code (1973 , 2002 Repl. Vo l.), § 3-801(x) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. 5 Md. Code (1973, 2002 R epl. Vol.), § 3-801(f) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article provides: Child in need of assistance means a child who requires court intervention because: (1) The child has been abused, has been neglected, has a developmental disability, or has a mental disorder; and (2) The child s parents, guardian, or custodian are unable or unwilling to give proper care and attention to the child and the child s needs. 7 Circuit Court held adjudicato ry6 and disposition 7 hearing s on M ay 23 and 24, 200 2. The court sustained most of the factual allegations, including those allegations that Ms. B. engaged in sexual activity with Laione. The children were declared CINA and committed to the Department s continuing care for foster care placement. The court also ordered that Ms. B. be permitted supervised visitation with the children. At that point, the Departmen t s perma nency pl an for th e childre n was reunifi cation w ith Ms . B. On March 25, 2003, eleven months after the initial CIN A determ ination, the juv enile court conducted a permanency plan review hearing pursuant to Maryland Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), Sectio n 3-823 (b )(1)(i) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.8 At the hearing, the Department took the position that the permanency plan for the children should be changed to termination of parental rights ( TPR )/adoption. Ms. B. opposed such a 6 Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), § 3-801 (c) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article defines adjudicatory hearing as a hearing under this subtitle to determine whether the allegations in the petition, other than the allegation that the child requ ires the court s interven tion, are t rue. 7 Md. Code (1973 , 2002 R epl. Vo l.), § 3-801(m ) of the Co urts and Judicial Proceedings Article defines disposition hearing as a hearing under this subtitle to determine: (1) Whether a child is in need of assistance; and (2) If so, the nature of the court s intervention to prote ct the ch ild s hea lth, safe ty, and w ell-bein g. 8 Section 3-823 (b)(1)(i) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article provides: Permanency planning hearing. (1) the court shall hold a permanency planning hearing: (i) No later than 11 months after a child in a CINA proceeding enters an out-of-home placement to determine the permanency plan for the child committed under § 3-819 (b) of this subtitle. 8 change. The Department called two witnesses: Nancy Atikkan, the Department social worker assigned to the children since September of 2002, and Polly H. Kraft, M.D., a psychiatrist who examined the children at The Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children ( Lourie Center ), and participated with others at that center in evaluating their emotional and mental health problems. Ms. B. did not call any witnesses. Counsel for the children participated in the hearing, but did not call any witnesses. The evidence introduced by the Depa rtment sho wed that the children at first were placed in two fo ster home s in Montgomery County: Gregory and Matthew were together and Laione and Ashley were together. In both placements, the children were aggressive and combative with each other and destructive to property, and had to be moved to separate homes. Additionally, Laione told lies of a sexual nature and Ashley engag ed in s ex talk. In mid-May, Matthew moved to a second foster ho me, a lso in Mo ntgo mery Cou nty, where he has rem ained and adjusted w ell. The othe r three children w ent through multiple foster homes in the first few months im mediately after entering shelter care and even tually were placed in therapeutic foster ho mes in Baltimore City through the Pressley Ridge Center. Gregory, Laione, and Ashley received therapy at the Pressley Ridge Center, and Pressley Ridge facilitated their visitations with Ms. B. In the summer of 2002, Ms. B. moved to Baltimore City to be closer to her three children in foster care there. Weekly visits at Pressley Ridge were scheduled with all four 9 children, with the Department providing transportation for Matthew from Montgomery Cou nty. Ms. B. then requested that the visits be scheduled bi-weekly to accommodate her work schedu le. According to the children s social worker, Ms. Atikkan, Ms. B. failed to attend the scheduled visits consistently or reliably, despite the fact that Ms. B. lived within walking distanc e of the Pressle y Ridge C enter. When she would participate in visits with all of the children, the children ran around and interacted aggressively with each other while Ms. B. exercised little to no contro l over their be havior. As a result, the visits w ere subseq uently scheduled individually, on a lternating w eeks, with M atthew s v isits occurring in Montgom ery County. M s. B. continu ed to miss a significant n umber o f the sched uled visits and to be late for others. During p art of the time period in which the visits were scheduled on alternating weeks, Ms. B. was working in Takoma Park; however, when she lost her job and became unemplo yed, she did no t schedule any additiona l visits and continued to either miss or be late for visits. The Department recommended that Ms. B. undergo a psychological evalua tion. M s. B., ho weve r, did no t subm it to one. Dr. Kraft, the psychiatrist wh o examin ed the child ren at The Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children, testified about the evaluation of the children performed by the Lourie Center in the summer of 2002, and the children s me ntal health issues. The evaluation was conducted by a team of therapists, including Dr. Kraft, and covered a period of forty to fifty hours. It included an interview with Ms. B., individual 10 sessions with the children, sessions with the children and Ms. B., and sessions with the foster parents , and ps ycholog ical testin g of the children . Dr. Kraft conducted the interview of Ms. B., who vocalized her belief that the children s problems were the re sult of mistrea tment by the ch ild welfare system. She an grily insisted that the children were no t being cared for prop erly and claimed that the children w ere perfectly normal prior to their removal from her care. She refused to acknowledge that she was responsible for their problems. Dr. Kraft concluded that the children s emotional and mental problems were the result of long-term abuse, most likely occurring througho ut their lives, which could not have been cau sed solely by the ir rem oval from their m othe r s cu stod y. In Dr. Kraf t s opinion, M s. B. s ability to properly socialize the children and keep them safe was s everely im paired. According to D r. Kr aft, G rego ry, Laione, and Ashley had suffered severe emotional damage as a result of physical and sexual abuse in their mother s home. Each of the children was diagno sed w ith men tal illness es as a c onseq uence . Gregory s ab ility to trust others was damaged to the exte nt that he exhibite d devia nt anti-so cial beh avior, in cluding lying, stealing, and attempting to trick people. Ashley was the most seriously emotionally damaged, to such a degree that the evaluators first believed that she was psychotic. She engaged in sexualized and inappropriate behavior that included making an overt sexual advance to one of the interviewing therapists. Laione also suffe red severe personality damage, marked by a very low sense of self- 11 esteem. She sexualized all relationships and resorted to sexual self-stimulation when experiencing stress. Matthew was the only child who suffered moderate, rather than serious, emotional damage, exhibited mainly through anxiety. Dr. Kraft stated that all of the children would need to be res ocialize d. At the conclu sion of the h earing, the court de termined th at the perm anency plan would remain reunification, stating, I do not think TPR is yet appropriate. The court noted that some of the p roblem s with M s. B. s failure to attend visits could have been caused by distance and that it was necessary that Ms. B. undergo a psychological evaluation. M oreover, the court stated that, without an evaluation, the appropriate plan for the children could not be determined. The judge explained: So, I want to make it clear by saying it a third time, that the mother must participate in this psychological e valuation, in which she tells the evaluator what happened in her childhood and what happened in the lives of the children while they were with her that may be significant, so we can look to what has to be done to reunify the children. I do not think we ve h ad a full en ough op portunity to do that. That s why I can t approve today a Permanency Plan of Termination of Parental Rights. I do not think we ve had enough opportunity on behalf of the mother for that to be an approp riate Pla n . . . . The court ordered that the psychological evaluation of Ms. B. be performed w ithin thirty days. A second permanency planning review hearin g was held on October 1, 2003. The Department once again requested that the permanency plan be ch anged to TPR/adoption, and 12 Ms. B. again o pposed th at request. During the approximately six months between the first and second perma nency pl an revie w hea rings, D r. Michael Gelles, performed a psychological evalua tion of M s. B. During the hearing, the Depa rtment called Dr. Gelles and Ms. Atikkan as witnesses. Counsel for the children called Shelby Morgan, Ph.D., Gregory and Laione s therapist at Pressley Ridge, and the sup ervisor for Ashley s therapist at Pressley Ridge. Ms. B. testified on her own behalf. A lso present were Joanna Dunca n, a Com munity Servic es Aide, Jo sie Traum, the children s former social worker, and Charley Mathews, a social worker who supervises the Sex Abuse Treatment division, all of whom were employed by the Departm ent. The Department introduced a ninety-nine page report which included a calendar containing entries indicating when Ms. B. had failed to attend visits, a discharge summ ary from Shepard Pratt for G regory, and writings by the children. Ms. B. objected to the admission of the report as impermissible hearsay and objected to opinion testimony from Ms. Atikkan, the child ren s so cial wo rker. She also requested that the other people who had been identified as witnesses be excluded from the courtroom during Dr. Gelles s testimony pursuant to Maryland Rule 5-615,9 and that the courtroom be c leared of all memb ers of the 9 Md. R ule 5-615 provides in pertinent pa rt: (A) In gener al. . . . upon the request of a party mad e before testimony begins, the court shall order witnesses excluded so that they cannot hear the testimony of other witnesses. 13 general public, but the court denied h er requests. In addition, the court denied M s. B. s objections stating that a p ermanen cy planning h earing is a species of disposition hearing under Maryland Rules 5-101(c)10 and 11-115,11 and thus, application of the Maryland Rules 10 Md. Rule 5-101 (c) provides: (c) Discretionary application. In the following proceedings, the court may, in the interest of justic e, decline to require strict application o f the rules in th is Title other than those relating to the competency of witnesses: (1) The determination of question s of fact pre liminary to admissibility of evidence when the issue is to be determined by the court under Ru le 5-104 (a); (2) Proceedings for revocation of probation under Rule 4-347; (3) Hearings on petitions for post-conviction relief unde r Rule 4-406; (4) Plenary proceedings in the Orphans Court under Rule 6462; (5) Waiver hearings under Rule 11-113; (6) Disposition hearings under Rule 11-115; (7) Modification hearings under Rule 11-116; and (8) Any other proceeding in which, prior to the adoption of the rules in this Title, the court was authorized to decline to apply the common-law rules of evidence. 11 Maryland R ule 11-11 5 provide s in pertinent p art: a. Hearing Scheduling. If after an adjudicatory hearing the court determine s that the allegation s of the petitio n at issue in the adjudicatory hearing have been sustained, it sha ll promptly schedule a separate disposition hearing. The disposition hearing shall be held no later than thirty days after the conclusion of the adjudicatory hearing. *** d. Commitment to Department of Social Services. In cases in which a child is committed to a local department of social services for placement outside the child s home, the court, within 18 months after the original place ment and periodically 14 of evidence was discretionary outside of the context of competency of witnesses. Dr. Gelles, the psychologist who evaluated Ms. B., testified that, prior to conducting the evaluation, he reviewed documents related to her and to the children, including an intake evaluation of Ms. B. by a social services agency in Montgomery County, in September of 2001. He interviewed Ms. B. for approximately two and one half hours and administered a variety of psychological tests. Based upon all of the information at his disposal, Dr. Gelles concluded that Ms. B. did not have a major psychological condition, but manifested a minor to moderate personality disorder characterized by passive, aggressive, and avoidance traits that neg atively imp act her b ehavio r. Dr. Gelles found Ms. B. to have difficulty being consistent and reliable, as a person and therefore, as a parent. She told people what she wanted them to he ar to portray hers elf in the mann er in which she w anted to be seen. As an example, D r. Gelles informed the court about lies that Ms. B. had told in order to obtain housing a ssistance, inclu ding that as a child thereafter at intervals not greater than 18 months, shall conduct a review hearing to determine whether and under that circumstances the child s commitment to the local department of social services should continue. Considerations pertinent to the determination include whether the child should (1) be returned home, (2) be con tinued in foster care for a specified period, (3) be placed for adoption, or (4) because of the ch ild s special needs or circumstances, be continued in foster care on a permanent or long-term basis. The hearing shall be conducted as prescribed in Rule 11-110 or, if conducted by a master, as prescribed in Rule 11-111, except that the child s presence s hall not be required if presence at the hearing is likely to cause serious physical, m ental, or e motion al harm to the ch ild. 15 she was sexually abused by a relative and had witnessed a murder. Dr. Gelles concluded that Ms. B. s pervasive unreliability and extreme nee d to please others resulted in others distrustin g wha t she said and on ly basing th eir judg ments o n her ac tions. Ms. B. told Dr. Gelles that none of the abuse reported by the children as having occurred in her household had happened. She continued in her denial even when shown a letter written by Laion e durin g therap y which detailed Ms. B . s sexual relations with her. Ms. B. s reaction was that the letter might have been written by someone else or that someone had influenced Laione to write it. Ms. B. was angry with the Departm ent and blamed it for the children s problems. Dr. Gelles testified that Ms. B. lacked any real understanding about how her past behavior had impacted her children, as evidenced by Ms. B. s defensiveness and denial. At the close of Dr. Gelles s testimony, the Department stated that it did not inten d to call M s. Dun can, M s. Traum , or Mr . Math ews as witnes ses. Ms. Atikkan testified that the children had been in foster care for sixteen months and that during that time Ms. B. failed to comp ly with the service agreements. Ms. B. had not participated in parenting classes which were offered to her, had not consistently signed releases for medical treatment for the children, and had not consistently attended visitation with the children . During six ty-eight week s of visitation, sh e had seen Gregory tw enty-six weeks, Matthew fourteen weeks, Laione twenty-one weeks, and Ashley eighteen weeks. Ms. B. also did not attend school meetings for the children and changed jobs several times since Septem ber of 2 002. 16 Ms. Atikkan a lso explained that Ms. B. refused to acknowledge the abuse that had occurred in her household, and therefore, failed to take responsibility for it. She stated that Ms. B. s lack of honesty in ackno wledging the circum stances in which he r children were sexually abused a nd inability to em pathize w ith them m ade it difficult for the children to heal emotionally from the trauma. After Ms. Atikkan testified, the children s attorney called Ms. Morgan, the Clinical Coordinator for Pressley Ridge, to testify. Ms. Morgan is a therapist who specializes in treating children who have been sexually abused. She began treating Laione in September of 2002 and testified that at that time Laione would engage in sexual talk during therapy and exhibit sexualized behavior a t school and in her foster home. Laione would touch other children sexually at school, would ask h er foster mother to have sex with her, and would become angry and intentionally wet the bed when her foster mother refused. Ms. Morgan stated that through therapy Laione made progress and developed a sense of trust over the preceding year. Laione disclosed more sexual abuse during that time, including abuse by Ms. B. Ms. Morgan worked with Laio ne to control her s exual thou ghts and dreams, by labeling them the sex monster, and by writing about her feelin gs in a journal. When Ms. M organ discussed Laione s problems with Ms. B., Ms. B. acknowledged that Laione had been sexually abused, but claimed that she did not know the identity of the perpetrator. Gregory began mee ting with Ms. Morgan in April of 2003, after his first counselor 17 left Pressley Ridge. According to Ms. Morgan, in the beginning, Gregory had difficulty expressing any feelings, but eventually began to talk about his anger. H e has eng aged in bizarre behavior a t his foster ho me, such a s defecatin g in a potato bag, which he said that he did because he was angry. According to Ms. Morgan, Gregory has problems with lying, stealing , and tru sting ad ults. Ms. Morga n stated that, alth ough M s. B. does h ave som e skills in dealin g with the children, she is inconsistent, unreliab le, and una ble to keep them safe outside of a highly structured and protectiv e trea tmen t env ironmen t. Re spon ding to qu estio ns po sed b y the court, Ms. M organ ob served that L aione had experienc ed anger w hen her m other failed to attend a scheduled visit, and at one time wrote a letter to her mother expressing her feelings. Laione also would experience a large amount of anxiety after meeting with Ms. B. Gre gory, howe ver, resp onded to his m other s a bsence with sta ted indif ferenc e. As the last w itness, M s. B. testified on her own behalf. She stated that she never engaged in sexual abuse of her children and that, to her knowle dge, they we re not sexu ally abused in her home. The court then ruled from the bench, granting the Department s petition to change the permanency plan. It found that the Department had mad e reasonab le efforts to reunify M s. B. with her children and that Ms. B. s testimony was replete with hollow empathy and sophistry. The same day, the court issued written orders changing the children s perm anenc y plans to T PR/ad option . On October 31, 2003, Ms. B. noted her appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, asking 18 the following questions: I. Did the juvenile co urt err by denying [ Ms. B. s] m otion to sequester witnesses and otherwise failing to strictly apply the Maryland Rules of Evidence in the permanency plan review hearing? II. Did the juv enile court er r by refusing to exclude non-parties from the courtroom? III. Did the juvenile court err in changing the children s permanency plans from reunification to adoption when the evidence was insuf ficient to show that the Department had made reasonable efforts to reunify [Ms. B.] with the children? In a repor ted opin ion, In re: Ashley E., 158 Md. App. 144, 854 A.2d 893 (2004), the Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision to change the permanency plan from reunification to TPR/adoption and agreed with the C ircuit Court s determina tion that a permanency planning hearing is a kind of disposition hearing because at such a hearing the court is determining the appropriate actions that the court should take and reviewing the permanency plan establish ed at the orig inal disposition hearing. Therefore, the Court of Special Appeals concluded that the Rules do not mandate the application of the Rules of Evidence during the hearing. Because the application of the Rules of Evidence was discretio nary, the court held that the Circuit Co urt was no t bound to apply Maryland Rule 5615 (a), and thus, was not required to order the exclusion of witnesses when asked to do so prior to the first witness s testimony. Moreo ver, the Court of Special Appeals held that the Circuit Court s decision to permit certain employees of the Department to remain in the courtroom during the hearing did not constitute goo d cause for overturn ing the court s 19 decisio n beca use M s. B. cou ld not sh ow bo th error a nd prej udice. Ms. B. filed a petition for writ of certiorari with this Court on September 1, 2004, presenting two issues for our consideration: 1. Whether the Marylan d Rules o f Eviden ce should be strictly applied in a permanency planning h earing and the subseq uent hearin gs to review the permane ncy plan wh en such h earings are s eparate and distinct from disposition hearings u nder Ru le 11-115, are meant to accomplish mo re than simply mod ify the dispositional order under Rule 1 1-116, and we re created by statute in 1998, subsequent to the adoption of the rules of evidence, such that the court could not have been authorized to decline to apply the common-law rules of evidence in these hearings. 2. Whether all non-parties must be excluded from the courtroom pursuant to Courts and Judicial Proceedings Section 3-810 (b)(2) when the proceedings were con cerning co nfidential inf ormation f rom the ch ild abuse report and record and the mere presence of the non-parties caused the natural parent s right to confidentiality to be breached. On November 12, 2004, we granted the petition and issued the writ of certiora ri. In re Ashley E., 383 Md. 569, 861 A.2d 60 (2004). Because we find that permanency planning hearings are dispositional in nature and may properly be characterize d as hearing s governe d by Rule 11-11 5d., we hold that the juven ile court was not required to apply the Rules of Evidence during a permanency planning hearing.12 Moreover, we conclude that the juvenile c ourt did 12 Rule 5-101 (c)(8) lists [d]isposition hearings u nder Ru le 11-115 " as procee dings in which the court m ay in the interest of justice, decline to require strict application of the Rules of Evidence. Because the review hearings mandated under Rule 11-115d. require the court to assess the historical circ umstance s supporting the original d isposition ord er, as well as any subsequent developments, and determine the nature of the court s intervention to protect the child s health, safety, and well-being, Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), § 3801 (m)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, which is the purpose of the initial disposition hearing, Rule 5-101 (c)(8) may properly be interpreted as including disposition 20 not err in failing to exclude the Department s e mpl oyees who w ere no long er directly involved in the case under Section 3-810 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article because their presence did not destroy the con fidential nature of the proc eedings d ue to their prior knowledge. Discussion On December 15, 1993, this Court adopted Title 5 of the Maryland Rules governing the admission of evidence during judicial proceedings. M d. Reg. vol. 21, at 1 (Jan. 7, 1994 ). At that time, we approved Rule 5-101, Scope, which stated: (a) Generally. Except as otherwise provided by statute or rule, the rules in this Title apply to all actions and proceedings in the courts of this State. (b) Rules inapplicable. The rules in this Title other than those relating to the competency of witnesses do not apply to the following proceedings: (1) Proceedings before grand juries; (2) Proceedings for extradition or rendition; (3) Direct contempt proceedings in which the court may act sum marily; (4) Small claim actions und er Rule 3-7 01 and ap peals und er rule 7-112 (c)(2); (5) Issuance of a summons or warrant under Rule 4-212; (6) Pretrial release under Rule 4-216 or release after conviction under Rule 4-349; (7) Preliminary hearings under Rule 4-221; (8) Post-sentencing procedures under Rule 4-340; (9) Sentencing in non-capital cases under Rule 4-342; (10) Issuance of a search warrant under Rule 4-601; (11) Detention and shelter care hearings under Rule 912; and review hearings under R ule 11-115d. w ithin its purview . To determ ine otherw ise would produce an absurd result. 21 (12) Any other proceedin g in which, prior to the adoption of the rules in this Title, the court was traditionally not bound by the common-law rules of evidence. (c) Discretionary application. In the following proceedings, the court may, in the interest of justice, decline to require strict application of the rules of evidence in this Title other than those relating to the competency of witnesses: (1) The determination of questions of fact preliminary to admissibility of evidence when the issue to be determined by the court under Rule 5 -104 (a); (2) Proceedings for revocation of probation under Rule 4-347; (3) Hearings on petitions for p ost-convic tion relief un der Rule 4-406; (4) Plenary proceedings in the Orphans Court under Rule 6462; (5) Waiver hearings under Rule 913; (6) Disposition hearings under Rule 915; (7) Modification hearings under Rule 916; and (8) Any other proceeding in which, prior to the adoption of the rules in this Title, the court was authorized to decline to app ly the common-law rules of evidence. Md. Rule 5-101 (1994). Rule 5-101 was amended in 1996 to conform to the new numbering scheme of the Maryland Rules. Md. Rule 5-101 (1997). The Rule had not b een altered substantive ly until April 5, 2005, when we adopted the recomm ended am endmen t to the Rule to align its provisions with the newly promulgated Title 15, Chapter 1100 of the Rules, which govern catastrophic health emergency proceedings. Md. Reg. vol. 32, at 279 (Feb. 4, 2005); Rules Order (A pr. 5, 2005). 13 13 This Court s Rules Order of April 5, 20 05 design ated catastro phic health emergency proceedings under Title 15, Chapter 1100" as a proceeding in which the application of the Rules o f Evid ence m ay be relax ed in the interests of justic e. 22 Maryland Rule 5-101 (c) permits a court to decline to require the strict application of the rules in v arious proc eedings inc luding [d]isposition hearings under Rule 11-115 Md. Rule 5-101 (c). When discussing Rule 5-101(c), the Rules Committee considered various phrases including: relax the applicatio n of the rule s of eviden ce ; declin e to apply as justice may require ; decline to apply certain rules of evidence ; and decline to a pply the rules of evidence strictly. Minutes of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure Meeting, June 19, 1992, at 47. Ultimately, the Rules Committee recommended the language presently conta ined in subsec tion (c). Id. The Chairman of the Committee, the Honora ble Alan M . Wilner, now a Judge o n this Cou rt, noted that the adopted language clearly allows the application of some rules and not others. Id. at 48. Based upon the Rules Committee s discussion, decline to require strict application of the rules appears to have been intended to mean that the application of the various rules of evidence in a proceedin g listed in sub section (c) is en trusted to the d iscretion of th e court. This conclusion is consistent with the structure of Rule 5-101. Rule 5-101 delineates three different categories of proceedings depending upon the application of the Rules of Evidence identified. Su bsection (a) p rovides the general rule that the Rules of Evidence apply to all actions and proceedings in the courts of this State, subject to certain exceptions. Md. Rule 5-101(a). Subsection (b) lists those proceedings in which the Rules of Evidence do not app ly, except those relating to the c ompeten cy of witness es. Md . Rule 5-101 (b). Finally, subsection (c), entitled Discretionary application, prescribes 23 proceedings in which the court, in its discretion, may decline to apply the Rules of Evidence. Md. Rule 5-101 (c). Therefore, it is clear that the phrase decline to require strict application means that the a pplication o f the Rule s of Evid ence is not m andatory w ith respect to those pro ceedings liste d in subsec tion (c), and in this context strict is synonymous with mandatory. Ms. B. argues that the application of the Rules of Evidence in permanency planning hearings is mandatory because such hearings cannot be categorized as any of the proceedings listed in Maryland Rule 5-101(c). Ms. B. notes that the only possible categories applicable to permanency planning hearings under Rule 5-101 (c) are either disposition hearings under Maryland Rule 11-115 or modification hearings under Maryland Rule 11-116. She distinguishes permanency planning hearings held under Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceed ings Article 14 from disposition review hearings described under Maryland 14 Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), § 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article states in pertinent pa rt: (b) Permanency planning hearing. (1) The court shall hold a permanency planning hearing: (i) No later than 11 months after a child in a CINA proceeding enters an out-of home placement to determine the permanency plan for the child committed under § 3-819 (b) [Disposition hearings] of this subtitle; or (ii) Within 30 days after the court finds that reasonable efforts to reunify a child with the child s parent or gu ardian are not required based on a finding that a circumstance enumerated in § 3-81 2 of this subtitle h as occu rred. *** (e) Determinations to be made at hearing. At a permanency 24 Rule 11-115d. on the basis of their applicable time periods. Ms. B. also asserts that permanency planning hearings are not modification hearings under Maryland Rule 11-11615 planning h earing, the co urt shall: (1) Determine the child s permanency plan, which may be: (i) Reunification with the parent or guardian; (ii) Placement with a relative for: 1. Adoption; or 2.Custody and guardianship; (iii) Adoption by a nonrelative; (iv) Guardianship by a nonrelative; (v) Continuation in a specified placement on a perman ent basis because of the child s special needs or circumstances; (vi) Continuation in placement for a specified period because of the child s special needs or circumstances; or (vii) Ind epend ent livin g . . . (h) Periodic reviews. (1)(i) Except a s provided in subparagraphs (ii) and (iii) of this p aragraph, th e court shall conduct a hearing to review the permanency plan at least every six mo nths un til comm itment is rescind ed. 15 Maryland R ule 11-11 6 provide s in pertinent p art: a. Revisory power. An order of the court may be modified or vacated if the court finds that action to be in the best interest of the child or the public, except in cases involving commitment of a child to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for placemen t in a State me ntal hospital. *** c. Hearing When required. If the relief sought under section a of this Rule is for revocation of probation and for the commitment of a respondent, the co urt shall pass an order to show cause why the relief should not be granted and setting a date and time for a hearing. The clerk shall cause a copy of the petition and Show Cause Order to be served upon the parties. In all other ca ses, the c ourt ma y grant or d eny the re lief, in whole or in pa rt, witho ut a hea ring. d. Conduct of hearing. In the interest of justice, at any hearing held pursuant to this Rule the court may decline to require strict 25 because permanency planning hearings are not intended solely to modify the dispositional order. Ms. B. characterizes the result of a permanency planning order as a new order based on new factu al findings rather than one m odifying the original order. 16 Ms. B. also argues that because Ms. Traum, Ms. Duncan, and Mr. Mathews were not witnesses or the desig nated repre sentatives of the Depa rtment, t hey should have been excluded as memb ers of the g eneral pub lic from a co nfidential pr oceeding concernin g child abuse under Maryland C ode (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), Section 3-810 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.17 She asserts that exclusion was mandatory, and that because application of the ru les in Tit le 5, except those relating to the comp etency of witnes ses. 16 Ms. B. also contends that, because the Maryland Rules of Evidence must be applied to the permanency planning hearing, it was error for the court to deny her motion to sequester the witnesses under Maryland Rule 5-615. Moreover, Ms. B. argues that this error was not harmless because th e testimony of Ms. Atikkan and Ms. M organ was influe nced by Dr. Gelles s prior testimony and that the court was undoubtedly convinced that Ms. B. was not a capable parent for the children, and thus changed the permanency plan to TPR/adoption. 17 Section 3-8 10 provid es in pertinen t part: (b) Confidentiality; exclusion of general public. (1) In any proceedings in which a child is alleged to be in need of assistance, the court may exclude the general public from a hearing and only admit those persons having a direct interest in the proceeding and their representatives. (2) The court shall exclude the general public from a hearing where the procee dings invo lve discussion of confidential information from the child abuse and neglect report and record, or any information obtained from the child welfare agency concerning a child or fa mily who is re ceiving T itle IV-B ch ild welfare services or T itle IV-E foster care or adoption assistance. Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), § 3-810 (b) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. 26 of the nature of the underlying issue s and purp ose of the a pplicable statu te, the failure to exclud e shou ld not b e consi dered h armles s error. Con vers ely, the Depa rtment argu es that a permanenc y planning he aring is dispositional, and as such, the app lication of the Rules of E vidence is not mand atory. In short, the D epar tmen t asse rts th at the juve nile c ourt may d ecid e wh ich R ules shou ld ap ply. The Department notes that the determin ations made at a perm anency planning hearing are virtually identical to those listed in Rule 11-115d. and that certain evidence may be considered by the court in permanency planning hearings that otherwise would not be admissible. According to the Department, because permanency planning hearings are properly considered disposition hearings, strict application of the Rules of Evidence is not necessary, and the court did not abuse its discretion in declining to do so. The Department also asserts that Ms. Traum, Ms. Duncan, and Mr. Mathews cannot properly be considered members of the general public because all are employees of the Departm ent, were involved in the case, and had access to the confidential information at issue. Therefore, the Department states that it was no t error for the c ourt to declin e to exclude them from the hearing. Disposition Hearings Under Maryland Rule 11-115 In 1969, the Rules Committee formulated, and the Court adopted, Maryland Rule 913 to govern the conduct of disposition hearings in juvenile causes. Minutes of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure Meeting, June 31, 1969. The draft version 27 of Maryland Rule 913 stated: Rule 913. Disposition Hearing a. Conduct of the Hearing 1. By Judge or Master. The judge or master who presided at the adjudicatory hearing shall, wherever possible, preside at the disposition hearing. 2. Availability of Social Study Report. Any social study report made available to the court at the hearing shall be made available to the parties before the court or their couns el, if any. b. Disposition of Case. T he dispositio n of the case shall be entered on the docket by the clerk. Each commitment shall be made subject to the further order of the court. If the disposition order includes pla cement o f the child out side his home, the court shall announce and dictate to the court stenographer or reporter or prepare and file with the clerk a brief statement of the reas ons w hy such p laceme nt is nec essary. Md. Rule 913 (draft, 1969); Md. R ule 913 (1970). In 1975, in response to a new statewide juvenile code enacted by the General Assembly, Rule 913 was amended to include a reference to Section 3-820 (b) of the Courts Article and renumbered as Rule 915. FortyNinth Report of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, at 1 (June 3, 1975); Md. Rule 915 (effective 1977). Amended Rule 915 stated: a. Hearing Scheduling. If after an adjudicatory hearing the court determines that the allegations of the petition at issue in the adjudicatory hearing have been sustained, it shall pro mptly schedu le a separate disposition hearing. The disposition hearing shall be held no later than thirty days after the conclusion of the ad judicatory hearing. b. Disposition Judge or Master. The disposition made by the court shall be in accordance with Section 3-820 (b) of the Courts Article. If the disposition hearing is conducted by a judge, and his order includes placement of the child outside the h ome, the jud ge shall 28 announce in open court and on the record or shall prepare and file with th e clerk, a statement of the reasons why the placement is necessary. If the hearing is conducted by a master, the procedures of Rule 911 [present Rule 11-111] shall be followed. A commitment recommended by a master is subject to approval by the court in accordance w ith Rule 911 [presen t Rule 11-111], but may be im plemente d in advan ce of cou rt approval. Md. Rule 915 (198 0). Three years later, Rule 915 was amended again to include section c., defining the procedures for placing a juvenile in a State mental hosp ital. Md. Rule 915c. (1981 ). In 1983, the last substantive change, the addition of section d., was made to Rule 915. That Section provided: d. Commitment to Depa rtment of Social Services. In cases in which a c hild is committed to a local department of social services for placemen t outside the child s home, the court, within 18 months after the original placement and period ically thereafter at intervals not greater than 18 months, shall conduct a review hearing to determine whether and under what circumstances the child s commitment to the local department of social services should continue. Considerations pertinent to the determina tion include whether the child should (1) be returned home, (2) be continued in foster care for a specified period, (3) be placed for adoption, or (4) because of the child s special needs or circumstances, be continued in foster care on a permanent or long-term basis. The hearing shall be conducted as prescribed in Rule 911, except that the child s presence shall not be required if presence at the hearing is likely to cause serious physical, mental, or emotional harm to the child. Md. Rule 915d. (1984). In 1996, this Court issued an order, effective January 1, 1997, which renumbered Rule 915 as Rule 11-115. Section d. was not su bstantively chan ged. Md . Rule 11-11 5 (199 7). 29 When section d. was presented by the Rules Committee, it was accompanied by the following explanatory note: The proposed addition to Rule 915 [present Rule 11-115] has been drafted in response to the requirements of a federal foster care and child welfare statute (P.L. 96-272) which requires states receiving federal assistance for foster care and child welfare services to provide procedural safeguards for the review of the status o f and plan ning for ch ildren in foster care (i.e. children committed to local departments of social services for placemen t outside their homes). The proposed rule change is also responsive to the recommendation made by the Office of the Attorney General after reviewing the federal statute and consulting with local departmen ts of social services, foster care review b oard staff, an d me mbe rs of the ju dicia ry. Proposed section (d) of Rule 915 [present Rule 11-115] will require juvenile courts, at intervals of no greater than 18 months, to hear and review each case of a child who has been committed to a local department of social services for placement outside the child s home. In virtually the exact language as the federal act, the rule amendment clarifies that the purpose of the hearing is to determine the future status of the child including whether the child should be returned home, continued in foster care for a specified period, placed for adop tion, or contin ued in foster care on a permanent or long-term basis because of the child s special needs or circumstances. In addition, in partial response to the concern of the Family Law and Procedure Committee of the Maryland Judicial Conference and the recommendation of the Office of the Attorney General, p roposed s ection (d) pro vides that the child is not required to attend the review hearing if presence at the hearing would be likely to cause serious physical, mental, or emotio nal harm to the ch ild. Minutes of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure Meeting, May 20-21, 1983, a t 48-49 . 30 Permanency Plans in CINA Proceedings In response to concerns that children w ere being lo st in the foster care system without belongin g to a permanent family, Congress enacted Public Law 96-272, the Adoption Assistance and C hild W elfare A ct of 19 80, codified at 42 U.S.C . §§ 670-79 (198 8), and the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, P.L. 105-89, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 673b, 678, 679b (2000), which required states, among other things, to provide a written case plan for each child for whom the state claims federal foster care maintenance payments. 42 U.S.C. § 671 (a)(1 6); see also In re Samone H. & Marchay E., __ Md. __, __A .2d __ (2005); In re Yve S., 373 Md. 551, 574-75, 819 A.2d 1030, 1044 (2003). Pursuant to Congress s condition for federal funding, Maryland created a statutory scheme directing the Department of Social Services to develop and implement a permanency plan that [was] in the best interests of those children com mitted to the loca l departm ent of s ocial ser vices. In re Samone H., __ Md . at __, __ A.2d at __; In re Yve S., 373 Md. at 574, 819 A.2d at 1044, quoting In re Adoption/Guardianship No. 10941, 335 Md. 99, 103-06, 642 A.2d 201, 203-05 (1994); Md. Cod e (1984, 1999 R epl. Vol., 2002 Cum . Supp.), § 5-525(e) of the Family Law Article. In In re Damon M., 362 Md. 429, 765 A.2d 624 (2001) we identified the importance of a permanency plan: The permanency plan is an integral part of the statutory scheme designed to expedite the movement of Maryland s children from foster care to a permane nt living, and hopefully, fam ily arrangem ent. It provides the goal towa rd which the parties and the court are comm itted to work. It sets the tone for the parties and the court and, indeed, may be outcome determinative. 31 Services to be prov ided by the loc al social service department and commitments that must be made by the parents and children are dete rmin ed by the p ermanen cy plan. And, because it may not be changed without the court first determining that it is in the child s best interest to do so, the permanency plan must be in the child s best interest. These are the reasons, no doubt, that the court is charg ed with de termining the plan and with periodically reviewing it, evaluating a ll the while the extent to which it is being complied with. 362 Md. at 436, 76 5 A.2d at 627- 28. Most recently, in In re Samone H., we explained the need for trial courts to review permanency plans to ensure that children are being cared for in the best possible mann er: As In re: Damon M. observes, the purpose of a permanency plan is to set the direction in which the parent, agencies, and the court will work in terms of reaching a satisfactory conclusion to the situation. Once set initially, the goal of the permane ncy plan is re-visited periodically at hearings to determine progress and whether, due to historical and contem porary circumstances, that goal should be changed. It is not the purpose of the initial permanency plan hearing, however, to resolve all issues involved in that final resolution. If that were the case, there would be no need for review of how, on a regular basis, the plan is progressin g or not. Also as In re: Damon M. indicates, the initial permanency plan hearing is to be held and conducted expediti ousl y. Protracted proceedings in establishing the initial plan defeat the purpose of the statute. The s tatute presum es that, unless there are compelling circumstances to the contrary, the plan should be to work to ward reu nification, as it is presumed that it is in the best interest of a child to be returned to h is or her natural pare nt. __Md. at __, __ A.2d at __, quoting In re Yve S., 373 Md. at 582, 819 A.2d at 1049. In In re Samone H., quoting from In re Yve S., we also delineated the requirements a trial court must follow when implementing a permanency plan: 32 [T]he court has the responsibility for determining the permanency plan, § 3-826.1(a)(1) and justifying the placement of children in out of home placements for a specified period or on a lon g-term or perm anent b asis, § 3-826.1(d), in addition to condu cting pe riodic, six month review s. § 3-82 6.1 (f). *** Section 3-826.1 [ now co dified as Se ction 3-823 of the Co urts and Judicial Proceedings Article] requires the court, not later than 11 months after a child found to be in need of assistance has been placed in foster care, see also Md. Code (1989, 1991 Repl. Vol., 1997 Cum. Supp.) § 501(m) of the Family Law Article, to hold a perman ency plannin g hearing to determine the permanency plan for that child. § 3-826.1(a)(1) [now § 3823(b)(1)]. At that hearing, for each child in placemen t and in determining the plan, the court is required to mak e certain decisions and findings, § 3-826.1(c), [now § 3-823(e)] spec ifica lly, whether the child should be: returned to the parent or guardian, § 3-826.1(c)(1)(i) [now § 3-823(e)(1)(i)]; placed with relatives to w hom ado ption or gu ardianship is granted, § 3826.1(c)(1 )(ii) [now § 3-823(e)(1)(ii)]; placed for adoption, § 3826.1(c)(1 )(iii) [now § 3-823(e)(1)(iii)]; emancipated, § 3826.1(c)(1)(iv) [now deleted]; or because of the child s special needs or circums tances, con tinued in placement on a permanent or long-term basis or for a specified period. § 3-826.1(c)(1)(v) and (vi) [now § 3-823(e)(1)(v) and (vi)]. There are restrictions on the court s ability to continue a child in placement because of the child s special needs or circumstances. § 3-826.1(d) [now § 3-823(f)]. That section prohibits the court from using that option unless it find s that the age ncy to which the child is committed has docu mented a compelling reason for determining that it would not be in the best interest of the child to: (1) Return home; (2) Be referred for term ination of parental rights; or (3) Be placed for adoption or guardian ship with a specified and appropriate relative or legal guardian willing to ca re for the child. __ Md. at __, __ A.2d at __, quoting In re Yve S., 373 Md. at 577-81, 819 A.2d at 1046-48 (additions in original). We explained: 33 Section 3-826.1(f) [now § 3-823(h)] mandates periodic reviews of the perma nency plan b y the court. Sub section (f)(1 )(i) provides [now § 3-82 3(h)(1)(i)] that such reviews will be no less frequently than every six mo nths until com mitment is rescind ed. If, however, at the permanency planning hearing or a subsequent review hearing, the court, inter alia, or ders a child continued in permanent foster care, the court is no longer required to hold the review hearings at six month intervals. Subsection (f)(1)(ii) [now § 3-823(h )(1)(ii), is revised to require review hearings every 12 months.]. As is true of the initial permanency planning hearing, the court must make some determinations at the hearing to review the permanency plan. § 3-826.1(f)(2) [now § 3-8 23(h)(2)]. A mong o ther things, in addition to determining whether the commitment remains necessary and appropriate, subsection (f)(2)(i) [now § 3823(h)(2)(i)], and evaluating the progress made toward alleviating or mitigating the causes o f the com mitment, subsection (f)(2)(iii) [now § 3-823(h)(2)(iii)], the court is required to determine the extent of compliance with the permanency plan, Subsection (f)(2)(ii) [now § 3-823 (h)(2)(ii)], and to change it if a change in the permanency plan would be in the child s best interest. Subsection (f)(2)(v) [now § 3-823 (h)(2)(vi)]. In re Samone H., __ Md. at __, __ A.2d at __, quoting In re Yve S., 373 Md. at 581, 819 A.2d at 1048 (additio ns in orig inal). The Relationship Between Rule 11-115d. and Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial P roceedin gs Article Ms. B. argues that review hearings under Rule 11-115d. are distinct from permanency planning hearings under Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, and therefore, under Rule 5-101, the juvenile court is required to strictly apply the Rules of Evidence in permanency planning hearings. To that end, she notes the differing time 34 intervals for holding hearings under the two provisions18 and the fact that Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, governing permanency planning hearings, was enacted after Rule 11-115 was last amended. She also places considerable emphasis on what she characterize s as the signif icantly greater nu mber of d eterminations that the court must make under Se ction 3-823 of the Co urts and Jud icial Proceed ings Article a s compa red to what the court m ust accom plish to com ply with the req uirements u nder Ru le 11-115d. We disagree. Both the dispositio n review hearings under Rule 11-115d. and the permanency planning hearings under Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings A rticle were enacted to provide procedural safeguards for the review of the status of and planning for children in foster care (i.e. children committed to local departments of social services for placement outside their homes). Minutes of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure Meeting, May 20-21, 1983, at 48; see also In re Samone H., __ Md. at __-__, __ A.2d at __ (stating that the statutory schem e was en acted to insure that actions be taken in the child s be st interests when committed to the Department of Social Services); In re Yve 18 We find this distinction between the hearings held under Rule 11-115d. and Section 3-823 to be unpersuasive. Rule 11-115d. requires hearings to be held within 18 months of the original placement and periodically thereafter at intervals not greater than 18 month s. Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article requires that the initial hearing occur no later than eleven months after the placem ent and pe riodic review hearings ev ery six months thereafter. Md. Cod e (1973, 2002 R epl. Vol., 2004 Cum . Supp.), § 3-823 (b)(i), (h). Obv ious ly, the hearings mandated by Section 3-823 comply with the time limitations imposed by Rule 11-115d. Therefore, we are not persuaded that this indicates that the hearings are distinct from on e another. 35 S., 373 Md. at 582, 819 A.2d at 1049 (observing that the goal of the permanency plan is revisited periodically at hearings to determine progress and whether, due to historical and contemporary circum stances , that goal should be chan ged ); In re Damon M., 362 Md. at 436, 765 A.2d at 62 7 (noting that the perman ency plan is an integral part of the statutory scheme designed to expedite the movement of Maryland s children from foster care to a permanent living, and hopeful ly, family arrangement ). Moreover, the language governing the disposition review hearings in Rule 11-115d., requiring tha t a hearing m ust be held to determine whether and under what circumstance the child s commitment to the local department should continue, reflects that the plan developed by the Department for the placement of the child is the focus of the hearing required by that Rule. Md. Rule 11-115d. This is precisely the juvenile court s task in permanency planning hearings as well. Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol., 2004 Cum. Supp.), § 3-823 (e) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. Both embody the purpose of disposition hearings: to determine the nature of the c ourt s int erve ntion to p rotect the child s he alth, safe ty, and well-being. Md. Code (1973, 20 02 Rep l. Vol.), § 3-801 (m)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. Furthermore, Ms. B. s attempt to characterize Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article and Rule 11-115d. as requiring qualitatively different determinations and considerations by the juvenile court, and therefore, mandating the conclusion that the provisions describe different proceedings, is ina pposite. A s stat ed previousl y, Rule 11-115d. governing disposition rev iew hearin gs directs the ju venile cou rt to determin e whethe r to 36 continue the child s commitment to the Department and also to decide the nature of that commitment. Md. Rule 11-115d. Section 3-823(h)(2) identifies criteria for deciding whether the child s commitmen t to the Department an d the nature of the placement by the Department is appropriate: (i) Determin[ing] the continuing necessity for and appropriate ness of the commitm ent; (ii) Determin[ing] the extent of compliance with the permanency plan; (iii) Determin[ing] the extent of progress that has been made toward alleviating or mitigating the causes necessitating commitm ent; (iv) Project[ing] a reasonable date by which a child in placement may be returned home, placed in a preadoptive home, or placed under a legal guardianship; (v) Evaluat[ing] the safety of the child and tak[ing ] necessary measures to protect the child; and (vi) Chang[ing] the permanency plan if a change in the permane ncy plan wo uld be in the child s best in terest. Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol., 2004 Cum. Supp.), § 3-823 (h)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. Whereas Rule 11-115d. governing disposition review hearings identifies the focus of the hearing in juvenile court, the provisions of Section 3-823 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article supply the details to be considered in making any decision. Ms. B. relies on a footnote in In re Damon M., in which we pre sented the statutory response to federal conditions, as evidence of our recognition that permanency planning hearings in CINA cases are inherently different from disposition re view hea rings unde r Rule 11-115d. In that footnote we stated: 37 Prior to 1998, the responsibility for developing a permanency plan for a child in foster care was entrusted to the local department of social services. M d. Code (1 984, 199 1 Repl. Vol., 1995 Cum. S upp.), § 5-5 25 (c) of th e Family Law Article. Before 1996, a plan developed by the local department was reviewed by the court, together with the report and recommendation of the Foster Care R eview Board , as a part of the disposition review hearing that the court was required to conduct. Md. Code (1984, 1991 Repl. Vol.), § 5-544 (3) of the Family Law Article. As a result of the amendment of the Juvenile Causes Act in 1996, see Ch. 595, Laws of 1996, the juvenile court was mandated to hold a hearing to review the implementation of a permanency plan for each child in foster care within 10 months of the disposition hearing in which the CINA finding was m ade. Md. Code (1996, 1997 Cum . Supp.), § 3-826.1 o f the Cou rts and Judic ial Proceed ings Article. It is of interest to note that the statute provided that if the child was to be continued in placement for a specified period, then the court would have to deter mine the e xtent of co mpliance with the permane ncy plan. § 3-826.1 (d). The subsequent amendment to § 3-826 .1, see ch. 53 9, Laws of 1998 , to make it conform with the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 effected a significant change. Now, the court has the responsibility for determ ining the p erman ency plan , § 3-82 6.1 (a)(1) and justifying the placement of children in out of home placements for a specified period or on long-term or permanency basis, § 3-826.1 (d), in addition to conducting periodic, six month review s. § 3-826.1 (f). In re Damon M.,362 Md. at 430-31 n.1, 765 A.2d at 624-25 n.1. We disagree with Ms. B. s interpre tation of the me aning o f the fo otnote. The statutory changes that occurred in 1998 clarified the roles of the local department of social services and the court rather than substantively changed them. The local department of social serv ices remain s responsib le for drafting a permanency plan for a child in out-ofhome placemen t, and the cou rt, despite any per ceived im plication in In re Damon M. to the 38 contrary, always made the final decision as to the appropriate plan for the child. The roles of the local departments of social services and the juvenile courts have not changed due to this legislation. Therefore, we conclude that permanency planning hearing s are prope rly characterized as disposition review hearing s under Rule 11 -115d., and as such, the c ourt may, in the interest of justice, decline to require strict application of the Rules of Evidence other than tho se relatin g to the c ompe tency of w itnesses , 19 Md. Rule 5-101 (c), as the trial judge did in the present case.20 19 This conclusion is consistent with a number of our sister jurisdictions which have considered this issue . See, e.g., In the Matter of D.L., A.L., 603 S.E.2 d 376, 38 2 (N.C. C t. App. 2004) ( W henev er the tria l court is d etermin ing the b est intere st of a ch ild, any evidence which is competent and relevant to a showing of the best interest of that child must be heard and considered by the trial court, subject to the discretionary powers of the trial court ) (emphasis in original), quoting In re Shue, 319 S.E.2d 567, 574 (N.C. 1984); Cal. Rules 1455 (b) (2005) ( The court shall receive in evidence and consider the socia l stud y, a guardianship assessment, the report of any court-appointed child advocate, and any relevant evidence on its own motion ); La. Rule 1 0th Dist. Ct. 4 0.0 (2005 ) (stating that in ju venile permanency planning hearings hearsa y evidence is a dmissible an d acceptab le; this rule is consistent throughout the district courts in Lo uisiana); Mich. Rule 3 .976 (2005) ( The Michigan Rules of Evidence do not apply, other than those with respect to privileges, except to the extent such privileges are abrogated . . . . At the permanenc y planning hea ring all relevant and material evidence, including oral and written reports, may be received by the court and may be relied upon to the extent of its probative value ); N.M. Rule 11-1101 (2005) (providing that the New Mexico Rules of Evidence do not apply to permanency planning hearings); N.C . G EN. S TAT.§ 7B-907 (b) (2004) ( The court may consider any evidence, including hearsay eviden ce as de fined in [N.C . G EN. S TAT. § 8C-1], Rule 801, that the court finds to be releva nt, reliable, and necessary to determine the needs of the juvenile and the most ap propria te dispo sition ). 20 Because Ms. B only raised the issue of whether the Rules of Evidence should be strictly applied during permanency planning hearings and did not raise any question regarding the evidence introduced, we do not reach the hearsay issue. 39 Exclusion of the General Public Under Section 3-810 of the Courts and Ju dicial Pro ceedings Article In 2001, the General Assembly enacted M aryland Code (1973 , 2002 Repl. Vo l.), Section 3-810 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, which provides in pertinent part: (b) Confidentiality; exclusion of general public. (1) In any proceeding in which a child is alleged to be in need of assistance, the court may exclude the general public from a hearing and admit only those persons having a direct interest in the pro ceedin g and th eir repre sentativ es. (2) The cou rt shall exclud e the gene ral public from a hearing where the proceedings involve discussion of confidential information from the child abuse and neglect report and record, or any information obtained from the child welfare agency concerning a child or fa mily who is re ceiving T itle IV-B child welfare services or Title IV-E foster care or adoption assistance. Md. Code (1973 , 2002 Repl. Vo l.), § 3-810 (b) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. According to the legislative history of the section, the General Assembly enacted subsection (b)(2) to comply with the provisions of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act ( CAPTA ), P.L. 93-247, 88 Stat. 4, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 5106a (2000). 2001 Md. Laws, Chap. 41 5. CAP TA req uires states that re ceive fede ral grants to su pport their ch ild welfare programs to enact methods to preserve the confiden tiality of all records in order to protect the rights of the child and of the child s parents or guardians, including requirements ensuring that reports and records made and maintained pursuant to the purp oses of this subchapter . . . shall only be ma de available to . . . any Federal, State, or local government entity, o r any a gent of s uch entit y, that has a need for such inf ormation in order to carry ou t its 40 responsibilities under law to protect children from abuse or neglect. 42 U.S .C. § 51 06a (b) (2)(A) (viii), (ix). Ms. B. urges this Court to conclude that Ms. Traum, Ms. Duncan, and Mr. Mathews were members of the general public, and as such, should have been excluded from the proceedings in which confidential information from the child abuse report and record was discussed. We disagree. All three individuals, Ms. Joanna Duncan, Ms. Josiane Traum, and Mr. Charley Mathews, were involved in the case at various stages of the process. Ms. D uncan , a Comm unity Services Aide with the Department, observed Ms. B. s visitation with the children on several occasions and was privy to the information concerning the treatment of the children an d their expe riences wh ile in the custody of Ms. B. Ms. Traum, a licensed social worker, was originally assigned to the children when they became involved with the Departm ent, and therefore, also was aware of the confidential information concerning the child abuse. Mr. Mathews, a licensed social worker with the Sex Abuse Treatment division of the Department, supervised Ms. Atikkan, the c hildren s current social work er, drafted a memorandum to the juvenile court discussing the children, and also had knowledge of the information at issue prior to the hearing. As such, each was an employee who had information regarding the status of the children and conceivably, could have needed information gleaned during the hearing. The purpose of Section 3-810 (b)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, 41 and CAPTA, is to prevent disclosure of confidential information concerning allegations and evidence of abuse that would impair the trea tment and rehabilitation of the children and parents or guardian s involved . Although we agree with Ms. B. that mere employment with the Department would not be sufficient to justify an emplo yees presence during a hearing from which the general pu blic must be excluded , we find n o error in permitting employees of the Department who already knew of informatio n concern ing the child abuse in issu e to remain during the hea ring. Conclusion Because we find that permanency planning hearings unde r Section 3- 823 of th e Courts and Judicial Pro ceedings A rticle and disposition review hearings under Maryland Rule 11115d. are substantively identical, we conclude that the application of the Rules of Evidence is not m andatory during permanen cy planning hearings. Moreover, we hold that because department employees who were present during the hearing, had prior knowledge of and access to the conf idential inform ation conta ined in the c hild abuse report and record, they are not properly considered members of the general public. Thus, the juvenile court did not err in failing to exclude them. JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPEALS AFFIRMED. COSTS IN THIS COURT AND THE COURT OF SPECIAL APPE A L S T O B E P A I D B Y T HE PETITIONER. 42