in the Court of Appeals 24 August 2017.
by respondent-mother from order entered 21 November 2016 by
Judge Susan M. Dotson-Smith in Buncombe County District Court
No. 16 JA 94.
brief filed for petitioner-appellee Buncombe County
Department of Social Services.
A. Perez, for respondent-appellant mother.
Armstrong, for guardian ad litem.
appeals from an order granting guardianship of her minor
child, N.H. ("Nancy"), to her sister, K.P.
("Ms. Parker"). We hold that there was evidence before
the trial court that Ms. Parker has adequate resources to
care appropriately for Nancy, and therefore that the trial
court did not err in awarding guardianship of Nancy to Ms.
Factual and Procedural Background
Buncombe County Department of Social Services
("DSS") initiated the underlying juvenile case on
23 March 2016, when it filed a juvenile petition alleging
Nancy was an abused and neglected juvenile based on
allegations that she had been sexually abused by
respondent's former roommates, concerns of possible drug
use by respondent, and concerns of domestic violence in the
home. DSS did not seek non-secure custody of Nancy, because
she was in a safety resource placement. On 15 April 2016,
Nancy was transferred to the care of Ms. Parker, and she has
remained in Ms. Parker's care throughout the case.
hearing on 6 July 2016, the trial court entered an order on
22 July 2016, adjudicating Nancy to be an abused and
neglected juvenile. According to the order, Nancy remained in
the legal custody of respondent and Nancy's father, but
Nancy's safety resource placement continued with Ms.
Parker. The court granted respondent weekly supervised
visitation with Nancy and ordered that Nancy continue to be
involved with outpatient mental health therapy. Additionally,
the court ordered respondent to: (1) be involved in mental
health treatment; (2) follow the therapist's
recommendations; (3) follow up with the recommendations of
her comprehensive clinical assessment; (4) participate in
Nancy's therapy; (5) submit to random drug testing; and
(6) complete a medication evaluation and follow all
September 2016, the trial court conducted the initial
permanency planning and review hearing in this case. In its
order from the hearing, entered 21 November 2016, the court
set the primary permanent plan for Nancy as guardianship and
set the secondary plan as reunification with her parents. The
court awarded guardianship of Nancy to Ms. Parker, granted
respondent weekly supervised visitation with Nancy, and
directed DSS to continue to work toward Nancy's
reunification with her parents. Respondent filed timely
notice of appeal from the trial court's order awarding
guardianship of Nancy to Ms. Parker.
Verification of Guardian's Resources
sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in
failing to properly verify that Ms. Parker's resources
were adequate to provide Nancy appropriate care as her
guardian. We disagree.
Standard of Review
review of a permanency planning order is limited to whether
there is competent evidence in the record to support the
findings and [whether] the findings support the conclusions
of law." In re R.A.H., 182 N.C.App. 52, 57-58,
641 S.E.2d 404, 408 (2007) (citation and quotation marks
omitted). Before a trial court may appoint a guardian of the
person for a juvenile in a Chapter 7B case, the court must
"verify that the person being appointed as guardian of
the juvenile understands the legal significance of the
appointment and will have adequate resources to care
appropriately for the juvenile." N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-600(c) (2015), see also N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-906.1(j) (2015) (requiring an identical verification when
appointing a guardian of a person for a juvenile as part of
the juvenile's permanent plan). "[T]he trial court
need not make detailed findings of evidentiary facts or
extensive findings regarding the guardian's situation and
resources, . . . [but] some evidence of the guardian's
'resources' is necessary as a practical matter, since
the trial court cannot make any determination of adequacy
without evidence." In re P.A., 241 N.C.App. 53,
61-62, 772 S.E.2d 240, 246 (2015). "The court may
consider any evidence, including hearsay evidence . . . that
the court finds to be relevant, reliable, and necessary to
determine the needs of the juvenile and the most appropriate
disposition." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.1(c).
regard to the adequacy of Ms. Parker's resources to care
for Nancy as her guardian, the trial court found:
28. [Ms. Parker was] present at this hearing. Pursuant to
N.C. G.S. § 7B-600(b), the Court questioned [Ms. Parker]
and she understand[s] the legal significance of being
appointed the minor child's guardian, and she has
adequate resources to care appropriately for the minor child,
and [is] able to provide proper care and supervision of the
minor child in a safe home.
on appeal, respondent contends that there was no evidence
presented to the trial court to support such a finding. For
example, respondent notes that Ms. Parker "testified as
to her employment with Buncombe County Schools
Transportation, but she did not testify as to her
actual income, whether she was paid a salary or worked by the
hour, whether she received any job benefits, nor any other
specifics regarding her employment other than she had no
other source of income." Respondent notes various
financial assets which Ms. Parker may or may not have had,
and the fact that no testimony was elicited with respect to
such hypothetical resources.
acknowledge that our case law addresses this situation from
numerous angles, none of them precisely on point. For
example, in In re N.B., guardians testified about
their willingness to take responsibility, there was a report
stating the guardians were willing and able to provide care,
and the social worker spoke "in depth" with the
guardians about the requirements and responsibilities of
being guardians. We held that this was adequate evidence
pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.1. In re
N.B., 240 N.C.App. 353, 361-62, 771 S.E.2d 562, 568
(2015). By contrast, in In re P.A., where the only
evidence was an unsworn statement by the guardian that the
guardian had the ability to support the juvenile, we held
that this was insufficient. P.A., 241 N.C.App. at
65, 772 S.E.2d at 248. Likewise, in In re J.H.,
where there was a report in evidence but the proposed
guardians did not testify, we held that this was
insufficient. In re J.H., __ N.C.App. __, __, 780
S.E.2d 228, 240 (2015).
instant case, there are two GAL reports and one DSS report in
the record, and Ms. Parker was present in court and offered
testimony. The first GAL report, dated 30 June 2016, notes
that Ms. Parker "is employed with the school district[,
]" but makes no other observations about Ms.
Parker's resources. The second GAL report, dated 1
September 2016, notes that Ms. Parker "is employed as a
school bus driver for the school district, " and that
Ms. Parker "is a single mom with no income when she is
not driving a school bus during the summer[, ]" but
otherwise makes no other observations about Ms. Parker's
resources. The DSS report, also dated 1 September 2016, notes
that respondent has given Ms. Parker a total of $30 when Ms.
Parker experienced "significant financial difficulties[,
]" that DSS has provided Ms. Parker with "gift
cards of $30 per month to assist with purchasing food and
gas[, ]" and that Ms. Parker "has experienced
financial difficulties in this process[, ]" but makes no
specific findings as to Ms. Parker's resources aside from
trial, Ms. Parker was questioned about her resources.
Although she was not specifically questioned about her salary
or benefits, her examination was still thorough:
Q. Okay. And so you're willing to be legally responsible
for meeting all [Nancy]'s needs until she's 18 years
old, is that correct?
Q. And you understand that that means you would [be]
responsible for meeting her medical needs, her dental needs,
her psychological needs, her educational needs, and any other
needs until she's 18, correct?
Q. And you're comfortable with that?
. . .
Q. Do you work outside the home?
Q. Where do you ...