In re E.P.-L.M., ___ N.C. App. ___ (Aug. 4, 2020)

Held: 
Affirmed in Part; Vacated in Part; and Remanded
  • Facts: Prior to DSS involvement, there was a Chapter 50 civil custody order that awarded joint physical custody to both parents, with the juvenile primarily living with mother as father had moved to Georgia. Mother and juvenile resided with maternal grandmother. DSS became involved when mother and grandmother made multiple reports of sexual abuse of the juvenile by the father. After multiple medical assessments and DSS and law enforcement investigations, none of the reports of sexual abuse were substantiated. During in-home services with DSS, mother refused to agree to a placement of the juvenile with paternal relatives. DSS filed a petition alleging abuse, neglect, and dependency based on mother’s substance abuse, housing, and repeated unsubstantiated reports of sexual abuse by the father. At hearing, DSS, the GAL, and father provided stipulations to the court; mother did not stipulate resulting in a hearing where the stipulations were admitted as well as testimony from the social worker, mother, and mother’s substance abuse counselor. The child was adjudicated all three alleged conditions. The court entered a dispositional order that awarded custody to father and supervised visitation both electronically and in person for mother through a modification of the Chapter 50 custody order based on a substantial change in circumstances and terminated its jurisdiction in the juvenile action through G.S. 7B-911. Mother appeals, challenging the adjudications based on stipulations, the 7B-911 order, and the visitation order.
  • Standard of Review for adjudications is whether the findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence and whether those findings support the conclusions of law. Unchallenged findings are presumed to be supported by competent evidence and are binding on appeal.
  • Neglect involves a juvenile whose parent does not provide proper care, supervision or discipline, who is not provided necessary medical care, and who lives in an injurious environment. G.S. 7B-101(15). It also requires that there be some physical, emotional or mental harm, or substantial risk of such harm, as a result. The trial court has discretion in determining the risk a child is at for a particular type of harm given the child’s age and living environment. The unchallenged findings, which include subjecting the child to multiple unnecessary invasive medical procedures, are sufficient to show the existence or risk of harm to the juvenile when she is in mother’s care and support the adjudication of neglect.
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Neglect
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