in the Court of 6 Appeals June 2018.
by respondent from orders entered 21 September 2017 and 2
October 2017 by Judge Doretta L. Walker in Durham County No.
17 J 80-81 District Court.
Assistant County Attorney Bettyna B. Abney for
petitioner-appellee Durham County Department of Social
Eldred for respondent-appellant.
Melanie Stewart Cranford for guardian ad litem.
case, we revisit the issue of whether a child can properly be
adjudicated as neglected where she has been in a stable
voluntary placement outside of her parents' home for an
extended period of time prior to the filing of a neglect
petition. C.C. ("Respondent") appeals from the
trial court's orders adjudicating his daughter, C.C.
("Clarissa"),  as a neglected juvenile. Because we
conclude the trial court properly determined that Clarissa
was a neglected juvenile, we affirm.
and Procedural Background
("Anna") gave birth to Clarissa on 7 December 2014.
Respondent is Clarissa's putative father. Respondent was
incarcerated at the Wake County Correctional Center at all
times relevant to this case. When Clarissa was approximately
six months old, she began living with Anna's foster
mother ("Ms. L."). Clarissa continued living with
Ms. L. until December 2016.
November 2016, Wake County Human Services ("WCHS")
received a Child Protective Services report that Clarissa had
been neglected while in Anna's care. The report included
allegations of "substance abuse, mental health [issues],
unstable housing, prostitution by the mother, . . . and
inappropriate supervision, as [Clarissa] was left in a hotel
(Days Inn) room by herself."
half-sister, A.S. ("Alice"),  was born on 12
December 2016. Around this time, Anna decided that Clarissa
would live with Respondent's mother ("Ms. C.").
case was transferred to the Durham County Department of
Social Services ("DSS") on 30 January 2017 upon
WCHS becoming aware that Anna and Alice had relocated to
Durham. On 9 February 2017, Anna was accepted into the
Cascade Treatment Program of Durham ("Cascade"),
and she began living at Cascade along with Alice. During this
time, Clarissa was living with Ms. C. and was allowed to
visit Anna at Cascade on the weekends. During her stay at
Cascade, Anna tested positive for illegal drugs on eleven out
of thirteen drug tests.
April 2017, Cascade informed DSS of an incident in which Anna
had been permitted to leave the agency "on a pass with
an expected return of 8:00 p.m." but had instead
returned to the agency "around 1:45 a.m.[, ] . . . long
after curfew, and appeared intoxicated when she
returned." Anna was informed on 18 April 2017 that she
would be discharged from Cascade "due to continuously
testing positive for illegal substances."
April 2017, a DSS employee informed Anna that due to her
continued substance abuse it intended to file a petition
seeking custody of her children and asked Anna who she would
prefer to care for them. Anna requested that Clarissa and
Alice be placed back with Ms. L. DSS subsequently approved a
kinship assessment with Ms. L., and both children began
living with her.
April 2017, Anna was discharged from Cascade. DSS filed a
juvenile petition on 25 April 2017 alleging that Clarissa and
Alice were neglected juveniles.
May 2017, Anna called Latisha Martin, a DSS social worker,
and informed Martin that "she wanted to go to New
Jersey, where she believed she could better access the
services needed to sustain recovery." She asked Martin
if the children could be placed with Alice's paternal
grandmother ("Ms. B.") in New Jersey. Martin
replied that Ms. B.'s status as a relative would have to
be confirmed through paternity testing and that a request
under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children
would need to be sent to New Jersey before the children could
be placed with Ms. B.
May 2017, DSS sought an order for non-secure custody as to
Clarissa and Alice and filed a supplemental petition for
neglect, alleging that Anna was making arrangements to
immediately remove the children from their placement with Ms.
L. and take them to New Jersey. The supplemental petition
stated that the children were "exposed to a substantial
risk of serious physical injury or sexual abuse" because
"the mother is threatening to remove the children [from
Ms. L's care] immediately."
adjudication hearing on DSS's petition for neglect was
held on 14 June 2017 before the Honorable Doretta L. Walker
in Durham County District Court. Martin and Anna testified at
the hearing. A dispositional hearing was held on 17 and 18
July 2017. On 21 September 2017, the trial court issued an
order (the "Adjudication Order") finding Clarissa
to be a neglected juvenile. On 2 October 2017, the court
entered a second order (the "Disposition Order")
determining that it was in Clarissa's best interests to
remain in the care of Ms. L. and continuing legal custody of
Clarissa with DSS. Respondent file a timely notice of appeal
as to both the Adjudication Order and the Disposition
appeal, Respondent contends that the trial court erred by
adjudicating Clarissa to be neglected based on his argument
that the court made no finding in the Adjudication Order that
Clarissa was at a substantial risk of impairment and that the
evidence would not have supported such a finding. At the
outset, we note that it is undisputed by the parties that
Respondent is unable to care for Clarissa because of his
incarceration. For this reason, the parties devote ...