In re J.N.J., 286 N.C. App. 599 (2022)

There is a dissent
by Murphy, J.
  • Facts:  At the time of the juvenile’s birth, mother had two children who were in DSS custody, having been adjudicated neglected and dependent. The primary permanent plan for those juveniles was adoption based on mother’s lack of compliance with her case plan. The juvenile in this action was born prematurely and was admitted to the NICU. He is a medically fragile child, requiring a breathing tube and ventilator, 24-hour-a-day supervision (so 2 full-time caretakers), and an environment free of smoke and smoke residue (home, car, personal contact). The homes of both mother and father smelled of smoke, and both parents admitted to being smokers. Father did not complete any medical training, and mother completed only some medical training. Neither parent provided names of two appropriate caregivers to care for the juvenile. When the juvenile was 6 months old and still in the NICU, DSS filed a petition alleging neglect based on lack of proper care and supervision and an injurious environment as well as dependency. After a 2-day hearing, the juvenile was adjudicated neglected and dependent and after the initial dispositional hearing, was placed in DSS custody. Mother appeals the adjudication and disposition.
  • Although the findings in the court order mirror the allegations from the petition, the findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence. It is not per se reversible error for the findings to mirror the wording of a petition or pleading. The record of the hearing must demonstrate the trial court found the ultimate facts necessary to adjudicate the juvenile based on its process of logical reasoning and the evidentiary facts before it. At the hearing, there was social worker testimony, and one of the social worker corroborated many of the allegations in the petition. Additionally, the trial court’s oral rendition demonstrated the court used a process of logical reasoning based on the evidence before it to find the necessary ultimate facts to support the adjudication.
  • Neglect involves a parent not providing proper care, supervision, or discipline and/or creating an environment that is injurious to the child’s welfare. There must be physical, mental, or emotional impairment or substantial risk of such impairment. For newborns or a medically fragile infant, the court must assess whether there is a substantial risk of future abuse or neglect based on the historical facts of the case and is predictive in nature.
    • A prior adjudication of a sibling, standing alone, is insufficient. There must be additional factors that suggest the neglect will recur. Failing to correct the conditions resulting in the prior adjudication, including addressing domestic violence, may support a likelihood of future neglect. The court properly found the parents were unable to provide proper care and supervision. Mother appeared controlled by father. The smoking by both parents and smoke in their homes created an injurious environment that would result in a substantial risk of physical impairment to this medically fragile infant.
  • Dependency requires a juvenile to be in need of assistance because the parents are unable to provide for the juvenile’s care or supervision and lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement. The court found that each parent was unable to provide proper care and supervision. Although father proposed alternative child care arrangements, his relatives were not willing to provide care to the juvenile. Mother failed to specifically identify any alternative caregivers and suggestions of a friend or sister were rejected as proper placements for her other children who were in DSS custody. Neither her friend or sister could provide 2 full-time live-in caretakers the juvenile required for his medical needs. The adjudication of dependency was proper.
  • Dissent: The court’s order contained a significant portion of its findings from the allegations in the petition that were not based on evidence before the court and do not appear to reflect the trial court’s process of logical reasoning. Looking to an oral rendition is unprecedented and is a departure from the ordinary appellate review process.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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