When the General Assembly enacted S.L. 2017-41 (H 630) in June 2017, it set several wheels in motion related to reform of the social services system (See legislation; SOG summary). Some of the ideas addressed in the reform conversation involve “regions” or inter-county collaborations. These ideas are often referred to as “regionalization,” but that term is simply too broad to be helpful. There are at least four distinct “regional” conversations underway, and they really need to be differentiated. My goal today is to abandon the term “regionalization” and clarify terminology for these social services reform conversations moving forward. To that end, this blog post will review the reform ideas related to regional social services work, give them unique names, and provide a brief update on the progress of these conversations. Continue Reading
Last year, the Court of Appeals held that only a director (or authorized representative) of a county department of social services (DSS) where the child resided or was found at the time a petition alleging abuse, neglect, or dependency (A/N/D) was filed in court had standing to do so. In re A.P., 800 S.E.2d 77 (2017). Because standing is jurisdictional, when a county DSS without standing commences an A/N/D action, the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to act. Id.; see my earlier blog post discussing this holding here. This holding had an immediate impact on A/N/D cases throughout the state. Because subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, both new and old cases were dismissed either through a voluntary dismissal by DSS or a motion to dismiss filed by another party in the action. After dismissal, new petitions for these same children were filed, sometimes after a child was transported to a county for the purpose of giving the county DSS director standing to commence the action. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) notified county DSS’s that the holding in In re A.P. superseded DHHS policy on conflict of interest cases, recognizing that contrary to the policy, a county DSS with a conflict may be the only county DSS with standing to file an A/N/D action after a partner DSS determines there is a need to file a petition because of abuse, neglect, or dependency. See CWS-28-2017.
Last month, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals holding, stating the statutory interpretation was too restrictive and contrary to children’s best interests. In re A.P., 812 S.E.2d 840 (2018). Continue Reading
First came the cease reunification efforts shuffle resulting from 2015−2017 statutory changes to the NC Juvenile Code and published appellate decisions interpreting those changes (see my last blog post, here). And now, In re C.P., ___ N.C. App. ___ (March 6, 2018) has created the elimination of reunification as a permanent plan two-step. Continue Reading
[This post is co-authored with my colleague, Margaret Henderson]. It was originally posted on the Coates’ Canons: NC Local Government Law blog on March 29, 2018 but is relevant to readers of On the Civil Side as well.
In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly established the Social Services Regional Supervision and Collaboration Working Group (SSWG) and directed it to develop recommendations related to the social services system (see legislative summary here). The legislation directed the UNC School of Government to convene the group, facilitate the meetings, and provide staff support to the project.
The SSWG’s work is divided into two stages. The group just released the final report for Stage One and is scheduled to present its recommendations to the legislature on April 10, 2018. Stage Two will get underway in May. All of the meeting materials, minutes, and recordings are available online.
There have been quite a few different conversations about social services system reform over the last year or so. As a result, there has been some confusion about the role of the SSWG. This blog post is intended to shed some light on the group’s charge and connect some dots between the work of the SSWG and other elements of system reform that are underway. Continue Reading
NOTE: Since this post was published, S.L. 2018-86 was enacted effective for all initial disposition orders that are effective on or after June 25, 2018. G.S. 7B-901(c) has been amended to add the word “determines” and supersedes the holding of In re G.T., ___ N.C. App. ___, 791 S.E.2d 274 (2016), aff’d per curiam, 370 N.C. 387 (2017). 2018 legislative summaries impacting child welfare are discussed here.
Abuse, neglect, or dependency court proceedings have several different stages, one of which is the dispositional stage. The dispositional stage, which occurs only after a child has been adjudicated abused, neglected, or dependent, has several different types of hearings: initial, review, and permanency planning. During the various dispositional hearings, a court may address reunification efforts, which involve the diligent use of preventive or reunification services by a DSS when a child’s remaining in or returning to the home of a parent is consistent with achieving a safe permanent home for the child within a reasonable period of time. See G.S. 7B-101(18). How a trial court may address reunification efforts, including whether to relieve DSS from making those efforts, differs depending on the type of dispositional hearing. That is what the reunification efforts shuffle is all about. Continue Reading
I am so happy to announce the availability of the 2017 Manual — Abuse, Neglect, Dependency, and Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings in North Carolina.
What’s In It?
This Manual provides easily accessible information about the laws, procedures, and concepts related to abuse, neglect, dependency, and termination of parental rights proceedings in North Carolina. The primary intended audience consists of district court judges, social services attorneys, parents’ attorneys, and guardian ad litem attorney advocates who work in this area of the law.
This 2017 edition is a significant revision of the previous edition (2015) and contains hundreds of pages of new content. It includes changes made to the Juvenile Code by the North Carolina General Assembly in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 sessions as well as appellate decisions published through October 1, 2017. The new content discusses a variety of topics including mandatory concurrent permanency planning, cessation of reasonable efforts and the elimination of reunification as a permanent plan, medical decision-making for a child placed in DSS custody, the reasonable and prudent parent standard, and Foster Care 18−21.
There are nine new checklists that supplement the chapter content and incorporate the legislative changes that apply to the various hearings in abuse, neglect, dependency, and related termination of parental rights proceedings. Before you bypass the chapters to get to the checklists, explore the Manual to see what is in there. Continue Reading
*SINCE THIS POST WAS PUBLISHED, THE N.C. SUPREME COURT REVERSED AND REMANDED THE COURT OF APPEALS DECISION DISCUSSED BELOW. A new blog post discussing the NC Supreme Court decision can be read here.
Earlier this year, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published In re A.P., 800 S.E.2d 77 (2017), which held that the county DSS that had an open child protective case did not have standing to file a neglect and dependency petition. As a result, the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the action, and the adjudication and disposition orders were vacated. Since In re A.P. was decided, there are lots of questions about when a county DSS has standing to file an abuse, neglect, or dependency (A/N/D) petition and what happens in conflict of interest cases requiring a case to be transferred to a different county DSS. Continue Reading
Faith and Julie have been neighbors and friends for over twenty years. They are both 75 years old and take daily walks together. Julie was recently diagnosed with dementia. Her daughter, Abby, lives a few hours away and is her general guardian, but rarely visits her mother. Abby hired an in-home aide to assist Julie around the house. When Faith tries to visit Julie during the day, the aide tells Faith that Julie is no longer up for visits from her or anyone else. Faith noticed the aide often leaves for hours at a time during the day and locks Julie in the house while she is gone. A mutual friend told Faith she recently saw Julie and the aide at an estate lawyer’s office and Julie mentioned she was changing her will. Faith grows worried about Julie and calls Abby to express her concerns. Abby is overwhelmed with stress in her own life and states that she trusts the aide, but will check in on her mother soon. Faith doesn’t see Abby visit or any changes to the aide or the aide’s behavior.
In my previous posts, available here and here, I described elder abuse generally and how adult protective services (APS) through the county departments of social services and guardianship proceedings before the clerk of superior court can be tools to protect against elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation (hereinafter, referred to as “abuse”). However, just because someone has a guardian, it does not mean the risks of such abuse are eliminated. In fact, guardians, such as Abby, often create circumstances for such abuse by leaving the adult in vulnerable positions and failing to monitor the adult’s care. In addition, guardians may be the source of such abuse by taking advantage of and exploiting the authority they are given. One recent report commissioned by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging examined such abuse by guardians after growing concern of abusive practices by guardians. The study concluded the extent of such abuse is unknown nationally due to limited data but there is some evidence that financial exploitation by a guardian is one of the most common types of elder abuse, which frequently includes the guardian overcharging for services that were either not necessary or never performed or misusing the adult’s money by incurring excessive dining and vehicle expenses. See Elder Abuse Report, pg. 11 and 14.
The risk of the abuse of an adult under guardianship may be mitigated by (i) court screening of potential guardians through criminal and financial background checks and guardian training or certification requirements, and (ii) court oversight after a guardian is appointed through the filing with the court of status reports, which are reports on the care, comfort, and maintenance of the adult, and accountings, which are reports on the financial affairs of the adult. Even with effective screening and oversight, abuse may still occur when someone has a guardian.
So, what steps may someone, like Faith, who is concerned about abuse of someone under guardianship either by the guardian or a third-party take to protect the adult? Continue Reading
Since the initial publication of this post, the Governor signed H362. This post was amended on July 31, 2017 to reflect that change and reference the session law.
The 2017 Legislative Session created and amended various statutes affecting child welfare. Some of those changes are effective now and others will become effective at later dates. This post highlights those amendments that directly impact practice in abuse, neglect, dependency, or termination of parental rights actions. A more complete summary of the numerous legislative changes can be found on the School of Government website, here. Continue Reading