In re C.H., 381 N.C. 745 (2022)

Affirmed in Part
Reversed in Part
  • Facts: In 2019, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected. At disposition, father was ordered to comply with his case plan addressing mental health, domestic violence, parenting, housing, and employment. In 2019, at a permanency planning hearing, the court ceased reunification efforts but continued its decision about whether to remove reunification as a permanent plan to the next hearing. At the next hearing in 2020, the court eliminated reunification as a permanent plan. Respondent filed his notice to preserve appeal. DSS filed a TPR petition, which was granted. Father filed notice of appeal of the permanency planning order and referenced the TPR order without filing a separate notice of appeal. The GAL and DSS moved to dismiss the appeal because father did not follow the procedures of G.S. 7B-1001(a1)(2). Father filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which was granted. Father’s appeal challenges the ceasing of reunification efforts while reunification was a permanent plan, and the permanency planning order (PPO) that eliminated reunification due to insufficient findings. Father argued that because the PPO was deficient, the TPR must be vacated under G.S. 7B-1001(a2).
  • The standard of review of a PPO is whether there is competent evidence to support the findings and whether the findings support the conclusions of law. The PPO is reviewed for an abuse of discretion about the child’s best interests.
  • The court ceased reunification efforts in a PPO while reunification remained a permanent plan until the court made a final determination on reunification at the next hearing. Relying on In re C.S.L.B., 254 N.C. App. 395 (2017), father argued reasonable efforts must continue when reunification is a plan. In re C.S.L.B. is distinguishable as guardianship was ordered in that case and there were no findings about the parent being abusive to or uncooperative with DSS social workers – findings that were made in this appeal. “[I]t was permissible for the trial court in this case to cease reunification efforts while allowing respondent an additional opportunity to demonstrate that he could comply with treatment recommendations regarding his mental health and potentially be reunited with his children.” 381 N.C. at 754.
    • Author’s Note: Effective October 1, 2021, G.S. 7B-906.2(b) was amended to require reunification be eliminated as permanent plan when the court finds reunification efforts would clearly be unsuccessful or inconsistent with the juvenile’s health or safety.
  • Before eliminating reunification as a permanent plan, the court must make findings under G.S. 7B-906.2(b) and 7B-906.2(d). The 4 findings under G.S. 7B-906.2(d) demonstrate the degree of the parent’s success or failure toward reunification. The statutory language, although best practice, need not be used. When an appeal of an order eliminating reunification is made with an appeal of a TPR, the two orders are reviewed together. The findings of fact in the TPR are supported by the evidence: the social worker’s testimony. The findings of fact do not address G.S. 7B-906.2(d)(3), whether the father remained available to the court, DSS, and GAL.
  • Relying on In re L.R.L.B., 377 N.C. 311 (2021), a failure to make findings under G.S. 7B-906.2(d) requires a remand for entry of additional findings and does not require the TPR order be vacated. “Unlike the specific finding that ‘reunification efforts clearly would be unsuccessful or would be inconsistent with the juvenile’s health or safety’ which is required by G.S. 7B-906.2(b) before eliminating reunification from the permanent plan, no particular finding under N.C.G.S. 7B-906.2(d)(3) is required to support the trial court’s decision.” 381 N.C. at 759 (quoting In re L.R.L.B.).
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Cease Reunification
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