In re M.H., ___ N.C. App. ___ (July 7, 2020)

Held: 
Reversed
  • Facts: One month prior to the juvenile’s birth, mother contacted her friend about providing an alternative childcare arrangement for her baby if DSS were to become involved. Mother inquired because of her history with DSS, who currently had 2 of her children in its custody. Her friend agreed and volunteered to share her home with mother and the infant. Mother and the infant moved in with her friend, and although mother was not on the lease, the friend was willing to have her added to it. Twelve days after the child was born, DSS filed a petition because mother failed to correct the conditions regarding her other children’s adjudication of neglect related a lack of stable housing and employment. The juvenile was adjudicated dependent, and respondent mother appeals.
  • Standard of review of an adjudication is whether there is clear and convincing competent evidence to support the findings of fact and whether the findings support the conclusions of law.  Whether a juvenile is dependent is a conclusion of law that is reviewed de novo.
  • Dependency under G.S. 7B-101(9) is a two-prong definition: the parent (1) is unable to provide care of supervision and (2) lacks an appropriate available alternative childcare arrangement. Findings as to both prongs are required, and a failure to make both findings is reversible error. A juvenile cannot be adjudicated dependent when the findings indicate they are living with a parent who is willing and able to provide care and supervision. Mother also took the requisite action to identify a viable alternative childcare arrangement.
  • The findings indicate the court’s primary basis for adjudicating the juvenile dependent is mother’s lack of suitable and stable housing and secondarily her lack of employment. There were no findings about mother and the infant living in mother’s friend’s home. The lack of findings about the alternative childcare arrangement is reversible error. Remand is not necessary in this case because the findings related to mother’s lack of employment and unstable housing (that she was not on the lease) does not establish that mother is unable to provide care or supervision to her child. The evidence and findings about a lack of concern for the child’s safety while in mother’s care indicate the child is living with a parent who is willing and able to provide care and supervision.
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Dependency
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