In re S.B., 268 N.C. App. 78 (2019)

  • Facts: Two children were adjudicated neglected and dependent. They were placed in the care of their maternal aunt. Initial concurrent permanent plans were guardianship with the aunt and reunification with mother. At the last permanency planning hearing held, the court ordered guardianship to the aunt, removed the concurrent plan of reunification since a permanent plan had been achieved. Respondent mother appealed arguing the court did not make the required findings to eliminate reunification as a permanent plan and relied on insufficient evidence to support the findings that the aunt understood the legal significance of the guardianship and had adequate resources to care for the children.
  • Standard of review: whether there is competent evidence to support the findings of fact and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.
  • A court’s determination that reunification efforts will be unsuccessful or inconsistent with children’s health and safety is a conclusion of law that must be supported by findings of fact. When relevant, findings of fact that efforts to reunite the child with either parent would clearly be unsuccessful or inconsistent with the child’s health and safety and need for a permanent safe home within a reasonable period of time are required under G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(3). Additionally, G.S. 7B-906.1(e) requires findings about whether it is possible for the child to be placed with the parent within the next six months.  A court is not required to quote the exact language of the statute but instead must address the statute’s concerns (citing In re L.M.T., 367 N.C. 165 (2013)). “Pursuant to In re L.M.T., we see no reason why the trial court’s findings of fact, taken as a whole, cannot sufficiently address the concerns of multiple statutory criteria without more explicit reference to each.” Sl.Op. at 8.  The findings addressing mother continuing to struggle with substance abuse, failing to acknowledge her problem, and lack of progress such that the children’s future health and safety are threatened and further efforts toward reunification would be unsuccessful fulfill the statutory requirement of G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(3).
  • Reunification as a permanent plan was removed as a concurrent plan when the court ordered guardianship, which achieved the child’s permanent plan. A secondary permanent plan is not required with a permanent plan has been achieved. G.S. 7B-906.2(a1). The court made all four findings required under G.S. 7B-906.2(d) and fulfilled the requirements of G.S. 7B-906.2(b) & (d).
  • The court must verify that the guardian understands the legal significance of the appointment and will have adequate resources to care for the juveniles. There is sufficient evidence to support the findings of both requirements. Although the aunt did not testify, the DSS social worker did and the DSS summary was admitted. That evidence included that the aunt was informed of the legal significance of the guardianship, understands what it means and is aware that the role is permanent. The aunt’s testimony was not required for the court to find she understand the legal significance of the appointment. The social worker testimony and summary are relevant and reliable evidence the court may consider under G.S. 7B-906.1(c). Additionally, the evidence that the aunt had provided for the children well over the past year and had financial support from her family (including respondent mother), worked part-time, and the children were eligible for Medicaid were sufficient to support the finding that the aunt had adequate financial resources to care for the children.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Disposition (All Stages Post-Adjudication)
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