In re K.W., 282 N.C. App. 283 (2022)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: DSS filed a petition alleging 3 children were neglected and dependent based on circumstances involving the parents’ mental health, improper care and supervision, injurious environment, parenting skills, and housing instability. The children share the same mother but only 2 children share the same father. The children were adjudicated, and father appeals the adjudication of his 2 children.
  • Evidence about mother’s mental health and drug use was introduced and some showed her behavior adversely affected the children, but the findings did not address how these issues impacted the children. Evidence of improper care and supervision and an injurious environment relate to mother’s treatment of her one child who is not subject to this appeal and did not address how the other children were affected. Unchallenged findings could be sufficient to for the court to adjudicate neglect. Father focused on favorable findings only. The trial court did not sufficiently address in its findings the impact on father’s children but focused more on mother’s one child. The trial court must determine the credibility of witnesses and weight of the evidence. Further, housing instability without evidence that it impacts care and supervision or exposed the children to an injurious environment cannot support a conclusion of neglect.
  • When questioned about her illegal drug use, mother invoked her 5th Amendment right. Because this is a civil proceeding, the court could infer her answers would be damaging. “The privilege against self-incrimination is intended to be a shield and not a sword.” 282 N.C. App. at 288. Mother cannot use it as both when asserting the 5th amendment right to curtail DSS’s ability to prove she was unfit.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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