The gravity of the events of recent weeks stemming from the highly publicized killings of several black citizens, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, has led for a call to acknowledge and respond to systemic racism in the United States. Initially, the focus was on the actions of the police, but the call to action has grown, asking Americans to address inequities based on race as a whole within our country. That begs the question, is race a factor in the child welfare system? The answer is yes. Continue Reading
These are not usual times for North Carolina, the U.S., or the world given the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In response to this pandemic, Chief Justice Beasley issued two Emergency Directives on Friday declaring that catastrophic conditions exist requiring changes to how the N.C. courts will operate. Yesterday, a clarifying memorandum was issued providing a “Coronavirus Update for Our Courts” (AOC Memo). These directives and other information may be accessed on the N.C. Judicial Branch website, which now has a page providing COVID-19 updates, here. This page also includes administrative orders issued by chief district court judges of judicial districts and how those individual districts are operating.
How does all this affect abuse, neglect, and/or dependency (A/N/D) court cases? A/N/D cases impact a parent’s paramount constitutional rights to care, custody, and control of their child. See Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000); Price v. Howard, 346 N.C. 68 (1997); In re R.R.N., 368 N.C. 167 (2015). Additionally, the Juvenile Code explicitly recognizes parents have constitutional rights that must be protected in these proceedings. G.S. 7B-100(1), -802. Emergency Directive 1 (paragraph 2) states that proceedings that are necessary to preserve the right to due process of law should continue to be held. Although the examples listed involve criminal proceedings, those examples do not exclude A/N/D actions where parents’ and children’s due process rights are affected. Continue Reading
My colleague, Margaret Henderson, and I are excited to announce a new SOG resource – Human Trafficking of Minors and Young Adults: What Local Governments Need to Know. Youth are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. County and municipal staff in many departments have either spontaneous or deliberate interactions with youth that provide opportunities to lessen those vulnerabilities, identify indicators of trafficking, and intervene when appropriate. Download the bulletin on the School of Government’s website, here.
This 36-page bulletin is organized into three parts. Continue Reading
Did you know that in a juvenile delinquency court case the juvenile may be placed in the custody of a county’s child welfare department (usually a department of social services (DSS))? A DSS placement through a delinquency action may happen in one of three ways:
- a nonsecure custody order (G.S. 7B-1902 through -1907),
- a dispositional order after the juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent (G.S. 7B-2506(1)c.), and/or
- an order appointing DSS as the juvenile’s guardian of the person (G.S. 7B-2001).
With each of these types of delinquency orders, there is not an allegation, substantiation, or adjudication that the juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent (see my last blog post, here, discussing delinquency as it relates to abuse, neglect, or dependency). Instead, the juvenile’s court involvement is a result of his or her alleged acts of delinquency rather than circumstances created by a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker. Each of these three custody orders is a type of delinquency order and not an order related to a juvenile’s abuse, neglect, or dependency. However, at times, as a result of the order placing the juvenile in DSS custody, pieces of abuse, neglect, and dependency law apply in the delinquency case.
The legal implications of placing a juvenile into DSS custody and resulting foster care as part of a delinquency matter are complex – so complex, that a blog post will not do. Instead, my colleague, Jacquelyn (Jacqui) Greene and I wrote a new extensive juvenile law bulletin discussing these orders and the issues that arise with each type of order. You can access the bulletin, Delinquency and DSS Custody without Abuse, Neglect, or Dependency: How Does that Work? here. Continue Reading
A juvenile may be involved with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. These youth are sometimes referred to as “dual jurisdiction” or “crossover youth.” Two of the ways a juvenile in North Carolina may be involved with both systems is when the juvenile is the subject of a delinquency action, and
- in that action, the court orders the juvenile placed in DSS custody or guardianship (G.S. 7B-1902‒1907; -2506(1)c.; -2001); and/or
- there is also cause to suspect that the juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent, which if substantiated by a county child welfare agency (hereinafter “DSS”) may result in a separate abuse, neglect, or dependency action that the juvenile is the subject of.
Both of these ways applied to one of the very few appellate opinions that address these dual jurisdiction youth: In re K.G., 817 S.E.2d 790 (2018). In that case, K.G. was adjudicated delinquent and placed in DSS custody through an order entered in the delinquency action. DSS then initiated a separate dependency action, which was based largely on the juvenile’s conduct and refusal to live with his parents. In that new action, K.G. was adjudicated dependent. That adjudication was appealed and reversed by the court of appeals, which held the petition failed to allege dependency and stated the juvenile’s willful acts do not determine a parent’s ability to care for their child.
So, when does delinquency result in abuse, neglect, or dependency? Continue Reading
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
Since this post was published, the NC General Assembly enacted S.L. 2019-33, effective Oct. 1, 2019. Amendments include removal of the words “remain” and “subsequent” in the statutes addressing permanency planning.
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