In re C.C., ___ N.C. App. ___, 817 S.E.2d 894 (2018)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: Respondent father was incarcerated at all relevant times in the case. This appeal focuses on the circumstances of neglect created by mother. DSS became involved because of reports related to the mother’s substance abuse, mental health issues, unstable housing, prostitution, and inappropriate supervision of the child. At the time of the report to DSS, the child had been living with mother’s former foster mother for a significant period of time. About one month after the DSS report, the child moved to maternal grandmother’s (GM) home. Mother agreed to enter a residential drug treatment program with her infant (not subject of this appeal) while her other daughter (who is the subject of this appeal) remained with GM. Mother was discharged from the program due to her continued use of illegal drugs and breaking the program’s curfew. DSS informed mother it intended to file a petition seeking custody of the children, and mother requested that her children be placed with her for former foster mother, which occurred after DSS approved it as a kinship placement. DSS filed the petition alleging neglect. Subsequently, mother contacted the DSS social worker to inquire about moving to New Jersey and having the children placed with a relative there. DSS filed a supplemental neglect petition and sought a nonsecure custody order based on mother’s intent to move with the children to New Jersey. After a hearing, the child was adjudicated neglected, and a subsequent dispositional order was entered. Respondent father appeals, arguing there was no finding or evidence supporting a finding of a substantial risk of harm to the child and that the child was not a neglected juvenile because her needs were being met in the voluntary kinship placement.  
  • Neglect: G.S. 7B-101(15) defines neglected juvenile as “a juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker.” Case law has established that as a result of that improper care, supervision, or discipline, there must be some physical, mental, or emotional impairment or substantial risk of such impairment to the child. Where there is no such finding, there is no error if the evidence supports such a finding.
  • When a child has been voluntarily removed from the parent’s home before a neglect petition is filed, the court should consider evidence of changed conditions in light of the evidence of prior neglect and the probability of repetition of neglect and consider the best interests of the child and fitness of the parent to care for the child at the time of the adjudication hearing. Quoting In re H.L, 807 S.E.2d 685 (2017).
  • This case is similar to In re H.L. and In re K.J.D., 203 N.C. App. 653 (2010), which affirmed the neglect adjudications when the parents failed to remedy the conditions that required the voluntary safety placement, and differs from In re B.P., 809 S.E.2d 914 (2018), which reversed the neglect adjudication when mother, by the time of the adjudication hearing, had made significant improvements to correct the conditions that led to the safety placement. Here, the child was in a kinship placement because of father’s inability to provide care due to his incarceration and mother’s inability to care for the child because of issues related to substance abuse, mental health, unstable housing, prostitution, and inappropriate supervision. Although the ultimate finding of a substantial risk of harm to the child was not made, the evidence supports that finding: “[t]he trial court’s findings make it abundantly clear that conditions leading to the placement of [the child] outside of the home had not been corrected. At the time of the adjudication hearing, [father] was still incarcerated, and [mother] had not (1) successfully engaged in substance abuse treatment; (2) enrolled in mental health treatment or parenting classes; or (3) obtained employment.”
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Neglect
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