In re E.A.C., 2021-NCCOA-298

Held: 
Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: In 2018, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected and dependent and at disposition were placed with a couple, the Morgans. A newborn was also adjudicated neglected and dependent in 2019 and placed with the Morgans. Mother is an undocumented noncitizen and there were several barriers to her accessing services DSS referred her to as a result. DSS referred and transported mother to Catholic Charities for assistance in obtaining a U Visa as a victim of domestic violence, but she did not file the application. In 2019, the court changed the permanent plans, eliminating reunification and identifying guardianship and custody. In 2020, the court entered permanency planning orders awarding guardianship to the Morgans. Mother appeals.
  • Notice: An abuse, neglect, or dependency action involves a sequential process, with an adjudication hearing followed by an initial dispositional hearing, a review hearing, and permanency planning hearings. “Although the Juvenile Code has established a sequential process, courts may combine and conduct the adjudicatory, dispositional, and permanency planning hearings on the same day.” Sl.Op. ¶21. However, a permanency planning hearing requires proper notice under G.S. 7B-906.1(b) unless the party waives that notice by attending and participating in the hearing without objection. Mother waived her right to notice of a permanency planning hearing when she participated in a noticed review hearing, and although objected to a change in the permanent plan, she did not object to the holding of a permanency planning hearing.
  • Eliminating reunification: No party bears the burden of proof at a permanency planning hearing. However, there must be credible evidence to support the court’s conclusions. Reunification must be a primary or secondary plan unless findings are made under G.S. 7B-906.2(b) and (d). There were no findings made under G.S. 7B-906.2(b) that reunification efforts would clearly be unsuccessful and there was only one of the four required findings under G.S. 7B-906.2(d). The findings are insufficient to support eliminating reunification as a permanent plan.
  • The trial court did not abuse its discretion in not enumerating specific requirements the parent must do to regain custody. Mother was aware of what she was required to do under the family services plan she entered into with DSS. 
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Cease Reunification
Topic:
Findings of Fact
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