In re A.N.T., ___ N.C. App. ___ (June 16, 2020)

Held: 
Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated abused and neglected. The juvenile had never resided with either parent and had been living with relatives. After DSS filed its petition, the juvenile was placed with different maternal relatives. Eventually, the child was moved to a non-relative’s home due to concerns with the juvenile’s placement in the relative’s home. Mother consented to this placement. At permanency planning hearings, potential placements with paternal relatives, including the paternal grandmother, were identified. After a hearing where paternal grandmother testified about her desire to have the juvenile placed with her and a description of the conditions of her home and father expressed his desire for the juvenile’s placement with his mother, the court ordered guardianship to the current non-relative placement providers after determining that disposition was in the child’s best interests. Respondent father appealed.
  • Standard of review of a permanency planning order is whether there is competent evidence in the record to support the findings and whether the findings support the conclusions of law. Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.
  • Relative Priority: “Our statutes and precedents clearly mandate relative placements of a juvenile to maintain familial bonds. . . .  [and] require and presume the juvenile’s best interest is served when placed with a family member.” Sl.Op. at 16. When the juvenile is placed in out-of-home care, G.S. 7B-903(a1) requires the court to first consider whether a relative is willing and able to provide proper care and supervision in a safe home. If that criteria are met, the court must place the juvenile with the relative unless the court finds that the placement is contrary to the child’s best interests. Failure to make the finding will result in remand. Here, the court did not make the statutorily required findings of fact and conclusions of law before ordering guardianship to non-relatives. This opinion reviews previous decisions that addressed this statutory requirement and the need for the finding: In re D.S., 260 N.C. App. 194 (2018); In re E.R., 248 N.C. App. 345 (2016); and In re L.L., 172 N.C. App. 698 (2005).
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Disposition (All Stages Post-Adjudication)
Topic:
Relative Placement
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