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In re A.P.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 18, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: A.P.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 3 April 2017.

         Appeal by respondent from order entered 29 June 2016 by Judge Ty Hands in Mecklenburg County, No. 16 JA 151 District Court.

          Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services, by Associate Attorney Christopher C. Peace, for petitioner-appellee.

          Anné C. Wright for respondent-appellant.

          Guardian ad Litem Appellate Counsel Matthew D. Wunsche for guardian ad litem.

          TYSON, Judge.

         Respondent-mother ("Respondent") appeals from an order adjudicating her minor daughter A.P. to be a neglected and dependent juvenile. The Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services ("MCDSS") did not have standing to file the juvenile petition. We vacate the trial court's order.

         I. Background

         At the time of A.P.'s birth in August 2015, Respondent was living at the Church of God Children's Home (the "Home") in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Shortly after A.P.'s birth, Respondent began to display irrational behavior. The Home's staff believed Respondent demonstrated a need for a higher level of care than they could provide her. On 22 September 2015, Respondent was taken to the Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast emergency room in Cabarrus County. She was subsequently involuntarily committed for mental health treatment in Mecklenburg County. Respondent agreed to a safety plan with the Cabarrus County Department of Social Services ("CCDSS") to allow her daughter to live at the Rowan County home of Ms. B., an employee of the Church of God Children's Home, while Respondent was undergoing in-patient mental health treatment.

         Respondent subsequently identified her grandfather's home in Mecklenburg County as a place where she could live with A.P. upon her release from in-patient mental health treatment. In October 2015, CCDSS asked MCDSS to investigate the appropriateness of the grandfather's home for A.P. MCDSS found her grandfather's home to be appropriate. Respondent moved into the home with A.P. Respondent entered into an agreement with CCDSS that she would cooperate with MCDSS in developing and following an in-home family services plan, and CCDSS transferred the social services case to MCDSS.

         On 25 November 2015, Respondent's sister discovered Respondent and A.P. were living away from her grandfather's home in a dilapidated house in Mecklenburg County. Respondent's sister took A.P. to Ms. B., and MCDSS subsequently approved the placement of A.P. with Ms. B. MCDSS investigated the conditions in which Respondent and A.P. had been living, and determined that Respondent needed intensive out-patient substance abuse treatment and other services. Respondent initially engaged in services, which were performed in Mecklenburg County. On 10 December 2015, Respondent notified MCDSS that she had moved to South Carolina.

         At an 18 December 2015 meeting with MCDSS, Respondent agreed A.P. would continue to stay with Ms. B., while she lived with a family friend in South Carolina. Respondent returned to Mecklenburg County in January 2016. She was subsequently jailed in Mecklenburg County on unidentified criminal charges. From 18 to 20 February 2016, Respondent was again an inpatient at Davidson Mental Health Hospital in Mecklenburg County.

         On 22 March 2016, Respondent informed MCDSS that she was residing in Cabarrus County. On 23 March 2016, Ms. B. informed MCDSS that she could no longer care for A.P. On 29 March, MCDSS obtained a nonsecure custody order from a Mecklenburg County magistrate, which did not list an address for either Respondent or A.P. Also on 29 March 2016, MCDSS retrieved the child from Ms. B. in Rowan County.

         On 30 March 2017, MCDSS filed the nonsecure custody order and a juvenile petition alleging A.P. was a neglected and dependent juvenile. After a hearing on 17 May 2016, the trial court entered an adjudication and disposition order on 29 June 2016, in which it concluded that A.P. is a neglected and dependent juvenile. The court continued custody of A.P. with MCDSS, with placement in MCDSS's discretion. The court granted Respondent supervised visitation with A.P. and ordered Respondent to enter into an out-of-home family ...


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