Heard in the Court of Appeals January 22, 2015
Mecklenburg County, No. 12 SPC 4138.
Appellate Defender Staples Hughes, by Assistant Appellate Defender Kathleen M. Joyce, for Respondent-juvenile.
Deputy County Attorney Cathy L. Moore, for Durham County Department of Social Services.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General M. Elizabeth Guzman, for the State.
Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, by Matthew W. Wolfe, for petitioner Thompson Child & Family Focus.
Judges DILLON and DIETZ
Appeal by Respondent-juvenile from order entered 22 October 2013 by Judge Donald Cureton,
Jr., in Mecklenburg County District Court.
Respondent-juvenile appeals from the Mecklenburg County District Court's 22 October 2013 order concurring in and ordering his readmission to a Level IV psychiatric residential treatment facility. Respondent-juvenile also seeks certiorari review of the court's subsequent 23 May 2014 order recognizing the Durham County Department of Social Services as a de facto party to the matter. After careful consideration, because we conclude that the court did not err in its 22 October 2013 order and that its 23 May 2014 order has not been properly preserved for our review, we affirm.
I. Facts and Procedural History
On 16 August 2012, Michael was voluntarily admitted to Thompson Child and Family
Focus (" Thompson" ), a 24-hour psychiatric residential treatment facility (" PRTF" ) by the consent of his legal guardian, the Durham County Department of Social Services (" DSS" ). Michael's admission was reviewed one week later by the Mecklenburg County District Court, which concurred in his initial admission and subsequently authorized his readmission to Thompson at six hearings between November 2012 and October 2013.
Michael was admitted to Thompson at the age of eleven following several incidents of inappropriate sexual behavior with other children. He suffered from a history of neglect by his biological parents, and was also sexually abused by several unidentified adult males, before being taken into DSS custody at the age of eight. Michael's treatment plan at Thompson called for reducing his physical and verbal aggression and decreasing his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms through a combination of medication and individual and group therapy, with the goal of eventually stepping down his treatment to a lower level of care and transferring him to a therapeutic foster home upon discharge.
As documented in the court summaries prepared by his therapist, Julia Sotile, Michael initially struggled to adjust to life at Thompson but gradually made progress toward attaining his treatment goals. Sotile's reports also documented her growing concerns with Michael's DSS guardian, Teresa Autry.
A. Michael's pre-October 2013 readmission hearings
In her court summary for Michael's uncontested January 2013 readmission hearing, Sotile noted that Michael had displayed great improvement in his behavior since she began working with him the previous October. Sotile described Michael as calm, compliant, and improving in his interactions with Thompson's staff and his peers there. In his therapy sessions, Michael remained reluctant to take responsibility for his sexual behaviors, displayed a preoccupation with and hyperawareness of sexual issues, and struggled to process his traumatic history. While his mother and siblings made supervised visits, DSS informed Michael's treatment team at Thompson that his permanent plan upon discharge had been changed to adoption with a preferred placement with his previous foster family, whom he visited once during Christmas. Sotile noted she had encouraged Autry to be clear with Michael so as not to set up any false expectations regarding his mother's role in his life.
In her court summary for Michael's uncontested April 2013 readmission hearing, Sotile noted that Michael had struggled since his last review. She explained that Michael was engaging in sexual behaviors with his peers, had difficulty taking ownership of his actions, and was increasingly defiant and disrespectful to Thompson's staff. In therapy, Michael expressed a great deal of anxiety and confusion regarding his sexual behaviors and his family situation and traumatic history. Sotile noted that he seemed deeply worried about whether he would be allowed to return to his mother's care, blamed himself for the majority of his family's problems, and had disclosed to Autry that some inappropriate discipline had taken place at the foster home where he had stayed before his admission to Thompson. Autry's response was to tell Michael that she did not believe his allegations but had told his previous foster parents about them, and that as a result, they had decided that they no longer wanted to be considered as a placement option for him. Sotile noted her dismay to Autry that sharing these opinions with Michael and blaming him for the disruption of his previous foster placement might cause him damage, given his struggles with isolation and loneliness. Autry also requested that Michael's phone contact with his mother, against whom DSS had recently moved for a TPR, be limited to once a week during therapy sessions to monitor for inappropriate conversations. Michael had previously asked that Autry contact him weekly by phone, but Sotile's report explained that Autry had been inconsistent in her communications with him and expressed concern that Michael's " sexual behaviors and other shows of defiance seem to be increasing in response to an overall sense of instability."
In her court summary for Michael's uncontested July 2013 readmission hearing, Sotile noted that Michael seemed to be benefiting from the opportunity to establish meaningful, healthy relationships with Thompson's staff and his peers, but was struggling with his attitude and behavior. Specifically, Michael was acting increasingly defiant and disrespectful and making inappropriate, hypersexual comments toward female staff members. He also struggled to follow directions at school and became distracted and easily frustrated when he did not understand his assignments. In therapy, Michael presented as hypersexual with his therapist by asking inappropriate questions and violating personal boundaries. He also seemed depressed and expressed feelings of hopelessness and helplessness regarding his family situation. However, Sotile also noted that Michael had recently taken tremendous steps toward acknowledging his past behaviors. Sotile further explained that Michael continued to express a desire for increased outside support and connection, and had repeatedly asked that Autry call him once a week, but that despite assuring him she would call weekly and establishing times to do so, Autry had consistently failed to call, which typically left Michael very upset. Sotile noted that Michael's treatment team at Thompson had repeatedly asked Autry not to commit to making these calls " as she is very clearly unwilling to uphold this [commitment]." By contrast, Michael's guardian ad litem offered to call him every weekend and had done so on a regular basis, and Sotile noted that Michael seemed to benefit from this contact. Michael's treatment team at Thompson also asked Autry to give Michael notice if she would not be able to attend certain meetings in person or take him off campus as previously scheduled, given that " [s]he has also not been able to adhere to this and at times will give [Michael] little to no notice" that she will not be coming. Michael's discharge plan continued to call for stepping down to a lower level of care upon completion of his treatment goals at Thompson, with an anticipated date of discharge in late August pending an updated psychological evaluation. Autry had stated that she was looking for a foster placement but that she did not feel it would be feasible to identify a family to begin working with while Michael remained in a PRTF. In the section of her court summary designated " Concerns Noted," Sotile reported that "  Autry's ongoing inconsistency and lack of communication with [Michael] is of great concern to his [Thompson treatment] team. [Michael] is a child with very minimal outside support.  Autry is a vital figure in his life, and her lack of involvement and contact is concerning."
In her court summary for Michael's September 2013 readmission hearing, Sotile reported that although Michael struggled at times with defiant and disrespectful behavior toward Thompson's staff, especially when faced with tasks he did not like, he had not displayed any verbal or physical aggression, or made any threats to harm himself or others, since his last review. However, as Sotile noted, there had been incidents when Michael acted flirtatiously toward his peers, and in therapy, he continued to present as hypersexual by asking her inappropriate questions, and expressed anger over his family situation. Nevertheless, Sotile explained that Michael was making progress toward taking ownership of his past sexual behaviors, improving at acknowledging his struggles with behaving respectfully, and getting better at expressing and tolerating frustration. Sotile also reported that, given Michael's ongoing struggles with emotion regulation and sexual preoccupation, his discharge plan had been amended. After noting Michael had recently undergone a psychosexual evaluation, Sotile recommended that Michael be stepped down to a Level III facility " specific to adolescents with sexual behavior problems," with an identified discharge date of 30 September 2013. However, Sotile continued to express concern over Autry's " ongoing inconsistency and lack of communication with [Michael]."
After a hearing held 12 September 2013, the Mecklenburg County District Court adopted Sotile's summary into its findings of fact; entered conclusions of law that Michael was mentally ill, in need of ...