In re M.S.E., 2021-NCSC-76

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: Two juveniles were adjudicated neglected based on circumstances created by mother’s untreated mental health and substance use issues and housing instability. Mother continued to use marijuana and cocaine and did not comply with all the drug screens. Mother did attend some parenting classes and showed improvements in her interactions with the children. Mother had a psychological assessment that showed she had borderline intellectual functioning and recommended a support person for assistance with parenting, a rep payee, review of written documents with her to ensure she understood. Ultimately, DSS filed a TPR motion, which was granted on the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress. Mother appeals.
  • Rule 17 GAL: Under G.S. 7B-1101.1(c), on the motion of a party or its own motion, the trial court may appoint a Rule 17 GAL to a parent who is incompetent. Incompetency is defined at G.S. 35A-1101(7). Incompetency is more than a mental health diagnosis and requires an examination of the parent’s courtroom behavior, how they express themself, and whether they appear to understand what is happening and can assist their attorney. The court must inquire into a litigant’s competency when circumstances that are brought to the court’s attention raise a substantial question as to that litigant’s competency. The standard of review on whether there is a substantial question of incompetency  and whether the parent is incompetent is an abuse of discretion.
  • Although mother had an intellectual disability requiring supports and services, and the social worker noted at a prior hearing that mother doesn’t understand why the case is happening and why she needs services, there is an appreciable amount of evidence to show mother was not incompetent at the time of the TPR hearing. The evidence shows mother’s understanding of her history of homelessness and need for the children to have safe and stable housing, her establishing supportive relationships with others, and exercising appropriate judgment at a CFT meeting (held earlier in the case) when requesting the children remain in their placement because she wasn’t ready. Mother attended all the hearings allowing the trial court to observe and evaluate her capacity to understand the proceedings. At the TPR hearing, mother testified in a clear and cogent manner and showed her understanding of the proceedings. There was no abuse of discretion in not conducting an inquiry into mother’s competency.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
GAL for Respondent Parent
Topic:
Hearing on Competency
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