In re W.C.T., 2021-NCCOA-559

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: This case involves 3 children, the youngest whom suffered second and third degree burns when he was 3 months old and was being watched by his paternal grandmother, with whom the parents and children lived. The infant’s injuries were not witnessed but various inconsistent and implausible explanations were provided. DSS became involved and ultimately filed a petition alleging the infant was abused, neglected, and dependent and his 2 siblings were neglected and dependent. After hearing, the juveniles were adjudicated as alleged. At initial disposition, the children were placed in DSS custody. Both parents appeal.
  • A juvenile is abused when a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker inflicts, allows to be inflicted serious physical injury by nonaccidental means or creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of such injury. G.S. 7B-101(1)(a)-(b). Adjudications of abuse have been affirmed when non-accidental injuries are not explained and the “findings of fact support the inference the respondents are responsible for the unexplained injury by clear and convincing evidence….” Sl.Op. ¶30.
  • Distinguishing this case from In re K.L., 272 N.C. App. 30 (2020) where the adjudication was reversed, there is no dispute that the injuries occurred when the children were in the exclusive care of their caretaker, and the unchallenged findings of fact support the inference that the injury was caused by non-accidental means. There is no requirement that witness testimony is required to support a finding that an injury was caused by non-accidental means.
  • The court’s unchallenged findings included an over 1.5 hour delay in seeking medical care for the infant’s burns, the initial explanation being conspired by the parents and paternal grandmother, multiple inconsistent explanations for the cause of the injury, red flags of potential domestic abuse by grandmother and grandmother’s volatile behavior, and the children having been left without supervision. The findings support the conclusion of neglect.
Category:
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Abuse
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