In re P.L.E., 290 N.C. App. 176 (2023)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: Juvenile was adjudicated neglected due to lack of proper care, supervision, or discipline and living in an environment injurious to her welfare where she was at risk for abuse based on non-accidental injuries sustained by her younger sibling while living in the family home. Mother was ordered to comply with her case, where she initially made progress but then failed to continue with that progress. At a permanency planning hearing, the court ordered a primary permanent plan of adoption with a secondary plan of guardianship. The court ceased reunification efforts and denied mother visitation with both juveniles while mother’s misdemeanor child abuse charges were pending. Later, when mother made some progress with her case plan and one of the juvenile’s therapy was suspended when the juvenile met her treatment goals, the court restored limited telephone and video contact with the juvenile. At the next permanency planning hearing, the court found the juvenile had resumed therapy based on regressive behaviors following initial video visits with mother, mother was not in full compliance with her case plan, and DSS recommended that the primary permanent plan be changed to guardianship. After hearing testimony from one of placement providers to whom guardianship was recommended and receiving an affidavit with financial information for the proposed guardians and after determining the parents acted inconsistently with their parental rights, the court changed the primary plan to guardianship, awarded guardianship and denied mother all visitation. Mother appeals the final permanency planning order.
  • Permanency planning orders disallowing visitation are reviewed for abuse of discretion.
  • G.S. 7B-906.1(d) lists criteria a court must consider at review and permanency planning hearings. G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(2) requires the court to consider and make written findings of “reports on visitation that has occurred and whether there is a need to create, modify, or enforce an appropriate visitation plan in accordance with G.S. 7B-905.1,” which requires an order removing custody from a parent, guardian, or custodian or that continues the juvenile’s placement outside the home to “provide for visitation that is in the best interests of the juvenile consistent with the juvenile’s health and safety”. Sl. Op. at 13 (quoting G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(2); G.S. 7B-905.1(a)).
  • G.S. 906.1(e) lists additional criteria a court is required to consider and make written findings after any permanency planning hearing where the juvenile is not placed with the parent. These criteria center around whether or not it is possible for the juvenile to be placed with a parent within the next six months and if not, what disposition is appropriate.
  • The court failed to make written findings and conclusions of law in the permanency planning order required by G.S. 7B-906.1(d) and (e). The record shows the court made a single finding relating to visitation which reflected the therapist’s summary of the juvenile’s behavior during and following the video visits with mother. Findings that “could support a potential conclusion it was not possible for [the juvenile] to be placed with [mother] within six months” are insufficient. The matter is remanded to make mandated written and supported findings required by G.S. 7B-905.1 and G.S. 7B-906.1(d) and (e).
    • Author’s note: This opinion does not address the language of G.S. 7B_906.1(d) and (e) that requires the court to consider all the factors and make written findings of those that are relevant, where a factor is relevant when there is conflicting evidence about the factor.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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