In re N.L.M., 283 N.C. App. 356 (2022)

  • Facts: This case involves 4 children; one of whom was adjudicated abused and neglected, the other 3 neglected. The child who was abused was underweight and severely malnourished requiring hospitalization, had burn marks and scars on her body, and was reported to be left alone for hours on the toilet and limited to remaining in her room. The other children witnessed the mistreatment of their sibling. Domestic violence and illegal substance use occurred in the home. Pending the adjudication, the parents visitations were suspended. At the initial disposition, the court continued the children’s custody with DSS, placement with a relative, and no visits. Mother appeals arguing DSS failed to provide reasonable efforts and both parents appeal the visitation order.
  • Reasonable Efforts is a conclusion of law. G.S. 7B-903(a3) requires the order to specify findings about whether DSS made reasonable efforts to prevent the need for placement. Reasonable efforts is defined at G.S. 7B-101(18) as the “diligent use of preventative or reunification services by [DSS] when a juvenile’s remaining at home or returning home is consistent with achieving a safe, permanent home for the juvenile within a reasonable period of time.” 283 N.C.App. at 361. Federal regulations include a nonexhaustive list of reasonable efforts: “crisis counseling, individual and family counseling, services to unmarried parents, mental health counseling, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, homemaker services, day care, emergency shelters, vocational counseling, emergency caretaker….” Id.
    • The unchallenged findings are binding on appeal and support the court’s conclusion that reasonable efforts were made. They include placement in a court-approved kinship placement; a transitional living plan for the 14 year old; mental health treatment for a juvenile; referrals to services for parenting, mental health assessment and services; substance use assessment and services; random drug screens; domestic violence services and follow-up and records requests from the referred to service providers. Mother refused all services.
  • Mother also argues the court denied her due process by holding the hearing. However, mother never requested a motion to continue and affirmatively stated she was ready to go forward.
  • Mother argues the court was biased because of its commentary such that she was denied a fundamentally fair procedure. This argument was not preserved for trial and is waived. Even if not waived, the argument is without merit. “Trial courts have ‘broad discretionary power to supervise and control the trial’ which [the appellate court] will not disturb absent an abuse of discretion.” 283 N.C.App. at 371. The trial court’s remarks were made to all the parties and were based on the evidence it heard and were not biased against mother.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Disposition (All Stages Post-Adjudication)
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