In re M.C., 286 N.C. App. 632 (2022)

  • Facts: Infant was born prematurely and was admitted to the NICU. Parents have older children who have been adjudicated and removed from their care based in part on parenting that was impacted by parents’ mental health issues. Parents were not regularly present with their child in the hospital. When they were there, hospital staff repeatedly instructed parents on formula preparation, feeding times, amount to feed infant, and diaper changing. Parents did not always perform these tasks and when they did, they were unable to do so sufficiently. When infant was medically ready for discharge, the parents had not completed discharge teaching that addressed caring for their child. DSS filed a petition. Child was adjudicated neglected, and parents appealed.
  • Under G.S. 7B-101(15), neglect involves the lack of proper care, supervision, or discipline. There must be some physical, emotional, or mental impairment, or substantial risk of such impairment, to the juvenile as a result. The determinative factors are the status of the child and not the fault or culpability of a parent. It is not appropriate to enter separate adjudications of neglect based on the individual conduct of each parent.
  • Prior involvement with DSS standing alone is insufficient to support an adjudication of neglect. The court must find other factors that suggest the neglect will be repeated. A newborn does not have to return home from the hospital for a neglect adjudication to occur.
  • Challenged findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence: medical records and testimony. Father’s failure to acknowledge the neglect adjudication of their older child shows risk of impairment to this child. Father’s argument that the prior neglect adjudication is not relevant since most of the findings were about mother is rejected. A neglect adjudication is about the status of the child.
  • The prior DSS case regarding the parents’ older child was not the sole basis for the adjudication. Both parents had significant mental health issues that impacted their parenting of this child. The parents were unable to provide basic care (feeding, changing diapers) to their infant while he was in the NICU and the parents were receiving instructions from staff. Both parents failed to obtain the services required from the prior case (e.g., therapy). A substantial risk of harm to this juvenile existed.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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