In re I.K., ___ N.C. App. ___, 818 S.E.2d 359 (2018)

Held: 
Vacated and Remanded

for additional findings

  • Facts: Two children were adjudicated dependent based on circumstances related to their parents’ inability to provide proper care and supervision due to substance use, domestic violence, and unstable housing. Prior to the filing of the petition, the children were living with their maternal grandmother. The children continued to remain in their grandmother’s care throughout the course of this dependency action. The permanency planning order that is the subject of this appeal awarded guardianship of both children to the grandmother and ceased reunification efforts.
    • Author’s Note: The opinion refers to the cessation of reunification efforts and appears to be using that term synonymously with eliminating reunification as a permanent plan. See In re J.A.K., 812 S.E.2d 716, fn 4 (2018). This author believes the order appealed is the elimination of reunification and resulting cessations of reunification efforts as the court of appeals has previously held elimination of reunification as a permanent plan and the cessation of reunification efforts differ. See In re C.P., 812 S.E.2d 188 (2018); In re C.S.L.B., 803 S.E.2d 419 (2017). The order eliminating reunification as a permanent plan is an appealable order under G.S. 7B-1001(a)(5)a.
  • The standard of review for a permanency planning order is limited to whether there is competent evidence in the record to support the findings and whether the findings support the conclusions of law, which are reviewed de novo. “Without adjudicated findings of fact this Court cannot conduct a meaningful review of the conclusions of law and ‘test the correctness of the trial court’s judgment.’ “ Sl. Op. at 13 (citation omitted).
  • At a permanency planning hearing, reunification efforts may be ceased when the court makes findings under G.S. 7B-906.2(b) and (d). Two of the challenged findings that address the respondents’ minimal progress are not sufficiently specific to allow the appellate court to determine what evidence in the record was relied upon to make that finding. Although evidence in the record supports the finding of minimal progress, there is also evidence that tends to show reasonable progress and supports another finding made by the trial court that respondents’ compliance with their case plans were improving. The DSS and GAL reports that were incorporated by reference have mixed information regarding respondents’ progress or lack thereof on their respective case plans. For example, when looking at the information since the last permanency planning hearing the reports address both the respondents’ participation in treatment and parenting classes and their appearing to be under the influence of drugs at a family event.
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Cease Reunification
Topic:
Findings of Fact
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