In re S.G., 268 N.C. App. 360 (2019)

Affirmed in Part
  • Facts: DSS responded to a report of a 3 year old with a black eye. The 3-year-old child has two older siblings. All three children have the same mother, and the older children have the same respondent father. Initially, the parents evaded the DSS social worker and ultimately explained the youngest child’s bruise as him falling when running and hitting his head on the table. DSS sought mother’s agreement to keep the children from respondent father while an assessment was being completed, but respondent mother would not agree. DSS filed a petition and obtained adjudications that the 3-year-old child was abused, neglected, and dependent and the two older siblings were neglected and dependent. At the disposition and permanency planning hearing, the court ordered respondents to complete and follow recommendations of substance abuse and mental health assessments, participate in parenting classes, obtain and maintain safe and stable housing, and submit to random drug screens. The order set forth a visitation plan of one visit per month and further designated that contact between the 3 year old and respondent father (who is not the father of the 3 year old)  was to be based on the child’s therapist’s recommendation.
  • Disposition and Court’s Authority to Order Case Plan: Applying the NC Supreme Court’s holding in In re B.O.A., 831 S.E.2d 305 (2019) (a TPR case) to an A/N/D disposition order, a trial court has authority under G.S. 7B-904 to order a parent to ‘take appropriate steps’ to achieve reunification but “is not limited to ordering services which directly address the reasons for the children’s removal from a parent’s custody.” Sl.Op. at 12. The trial court may order services that aids in understanding and resolving the possible underlying causes of what contributed to the court’s removal, including those conditions that directly or indirectly contributed to the juvenile’s removal and allows for the court to modify and update a parent’s case plan in subsequent review proceedings based on new or existing evidence. In re B.O.A. overruled previous holdings from the court of appeals that applied a narrow application of G.S. 7B-904 (see In re H.H., 237 N.C. App. 431 (2014); In re W.V., 204 N.C. App. 290 (2010)).
    • Although the removal of the children in this case was based primarily on the nonaccidental injuries to the youngest children, the court did not abuse its discretion when ordering the parents to complete substance abuse and mental health assessments and follow all recommendations and to submit to random drug screens, and obtain and maintain safe and stable housing. At a minimum these directives will assist in understanding whether substance abuse or mental health issues were the underlying causes for the abuse and neglect. Given the parents attempts to keep their residence hidden from DSS and believed housing instability (multiple moves), the court did not abuse its discretion when requiring the parents to obtain and maintain safe and stable housing.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Disposition (All Stages Post-Adjudication)
Court Authority to Order Case Plan
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