In re T.W., ___ N.C. App. ___, 796 S.E.2d 792 (2016)

Held: 
Remanded
Vacated in Part
  • Citing In re Shue, 311 N.C. 586 (1984), the essential aim of dispositional and review hearings is to reunite a child (who has been removed from his or her parent’s care) with his or her parents. As a result, the Juvenile Code limits when a court may order that reasonable efforts to reunify a parent with his or her child is not required.
  • The court’s authority to order that reasonable efforts for reunification are not required because of any of the factors enumerated in G.S. 7B-901(c) is limited to the initial dispositional hearing and order only. G.S. 7B-901(c) factors do not apply to review or permanency planning hearings and orders.
    • Author’s Note: See In re G.T., 791 S.E.2d 274 (2016), aff'd per curiam, 808 S.E.2d 142 (2017), which held that G.S. 7B-901(c) does not authorize the court to make a determination in the initial dispositional hearing that a factor exists but instead requires the court to find that there was a prior order that determined one of the factors enumerated in G.S. 7B-901(c) exists.
  • At permanency planning, if the initial dispositional order did not order reasonable efforts are not required pursuant to a G.S. 7B-901(c) factor, a court may only order reunification is not a primary or second permanent plan (and thereby relieve the department of providing reasonable efforts to reunify a parent with his/her child) after making an ultimate finding of fact designated in G.S. 7B-906.2(b): “…reunification efforts clearly would be unsuccessful or would be inconsistent with the juvenile’s health or safety.” Although the court made evidentiary findings of fact pursuant to G.S. 7B-906.2(d) about the mother’s lack of progress, it did not make the required ultimate finding of fact.
  • The court’s finding under G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(3) that efforts to reunite the juvenile with his or her parent would clearly be unsuccessful or inconsistent with the juvenile’s health or safety and need for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable time requires the court to consider a permanent plan for the child. If this finding is made at a review hearing, it “trigger[s] the court’s duty to commence the permanent planning process as early as the initial 90-day review hearing.” G.S. 7B-906.1(d) does not authorize an order ceasing reunification efforts.
    • Author’s Note: the language of the finding specified in G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(3) is based on amendments made by S.L. 2016-94, effective July 1, 2016, which are referenced in FN 4 of the published opinion
    • Author’s Second Note: If the review hearing has not been designated as a permanency planning hearing and 15 days’ notice of a permanency planning hearing was not provided to the parent, the court may not proceed to permanency planning after making the 7B-906.1(d)(3) finding at the review hearing if the parent objects. The court will have to schedule a subsequent permanency planning hearing that provides the statutorily required notice. See G.S. 7B-906.1(b); In re K.C., ___ N.C. App. ___ (August 2, 2016) which was published after initially being unpublished (note that Westlaw does not reflect the change to it being a published opinion).

 

Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Cease Reunification
Topic:
Findings of Fact
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