In re A.D., 2021-NCCOA-398

  • Facts: A report alleging improper discipline was received by DSS. DSS conducted an assessment and determined “services needed.” There was no indication of “substantiation.” The case was transferred to an in-home services worker. Respondent custodian refused to sign the in-home services agreement but did engage in some services during the assessment phase. As the in-home services case continued, respondent refused to participate in services and prevented the social worker from seeing the children. Months later, DSS filed a petition alleging the juveniles were neglected and dependent based in part on respondent’s refusal to engage with services or have the children engage in services. After hearing, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected due to a lack of proper care, supervision, or discipline and living in an injurious environment. Respondent retained legal custody and was subject to a court-ordered protection plan where she was ordered to comply with in-home services. Respondent appealed the adjudication.
  • Clear and convincing evidence showed the juveniles were at substantial risk of harm. The trial court considers the juvenile’s age and the environment the juvenile is living in when determining whether the juvenile is at risk of a particular type of harm. There was evidence of physical discipline that resulted in marks and injuries to the juveniles and respondent’s refusal to engage in services or allow the children to attend therapy to address their own mental health issues. Previous opinions have upheld a neglect adjudication when a parent has failed to follow through with required treatment for themselves and their children. “Evidence of events after the petition is filed is irrelevant to the determination of whether a child is neglected.” Sl.Op. ¶15.
  • DSS Process: After an assessment is completed, “DSS determines or substantiates whether abuse, neglect, serious neglect, or dependency occurred” based on the statutory definitions of those terms. Sl. Op. ¶27. When a report is substantiated and transferred to in-home services, DSS may file a petition with or without a request for nonsecure custody. DSS determines what services are needed to help the family meet the child’s needs, keep the child safe, and prevent future harm and arranges those services for the family. If a parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker refuses to accept those services, DSS must file a petition to protect the juvenile. See G.S. 7B-302(c)-(d). Under the NC Child Welfare Manual, a substantiation and services needed determination are treated the same. “Services needed” is not the equivalent of “unsubstantiated.” When the petition was filed, respondent refused to comply in the DSS in-home services plan, DSS was required to file a petition, and the evidence supports the conclusion of neglected juvenile.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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