Bill Summary for S 625 (2023-2024)

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Summary date: 

Apr 5 2023

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2023-2024 Session
Senate Bill 625 (Public) Filed Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Intro. by Krawiec, Jarvis, Batch.

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Bill summary

Section 1

Adds the following defined terms to GS 7B-101, applicable to Subchapter I, Abuse, Neglect, Dependency. Defines judicial official as a magistrate, clerk, judge, or justice. Defines legal counsel for department as an attorney representing the department (the county child welfare agency) in proceedings under Subchapter I, regardless of whether the attorney is a county attorney, department attorney, or contract attorney. 

Section 2

Amends GS 7B-302, GS 7B-303, and GS 7B-403, requiring the following petitions to be prepared by legal counsel for the department: petitions to invoke jurisdiction for the protection of a juvenile alleged to be abused, neglected or dependent (or any other juvenile in the home); petitions requesting an order directing a named respondent cease obstruction or interference with the assessment of a report of a juvenile alleged to be abused, neglected, or dependent; and petitions to file a report of alleged abuse, neglect, or dependency.

Further amends GS 7B-303, making the evidentiary standard at hearings on petitions regarding obstruction or interference with an assessment "clear and convincing," rather than "clear, cogent, and convincing." 

Further amends GS 7B-403, requiring reports alleging abuse, neglect, or dependency that are filed as petitions to be signed by the director.

Makes the above provisions effective January 1, 2024.

Section 3

Enacts GS 7B-302.1, listing ten instances in which a conflict of interest is deemed to exist at the department for an abuse, neglect, or dependency report, including, among others, (1) when the report involves an employee of the county department, a relative of an employee of the child welfare division of the county department, or, at the director's discretion, a relative of an employee of the county department; (2) when the report involves a foster parent supervised by the department; and (3) when the report involves a juvenile in custody of the department who is also a parent or caretaker. Requires the director that receives the report where the conflict exists to (1) request that another county department conduct the assessment, and (2) notify the Division of Social Services of the Department of Health and Human Services (DSS; DHHS) of the conflict and the county that accepted the report for assessment. Requires the director to notify DSS upon making requests of two or more other counties whereby no other county is willing or able to accept the case for assessment. Directs DSS to evaluate the conflict and determine whether the county with the conflict is able to manage the case by obviating the conflict; appoint another county to assume management; and determine which county bears the financial responsibility when another county is appointed to manage the case. Establishes written notice requirements for the department with the conflict to inform the parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker of the conflict and the county that assumes case management, along with the contact information for the DSS complaint line. Allows a parent, guardian, custodian, juvenile, or their representative to seek to have their case transferred to another county by contacting the DSS complaint line if a department has a conflict of interest at the time of the report or at any time during case management, whereby DSS must apply the statute's provisions. 

Amends GS 7B-400(c), regarding a pre-adjudication change of venue, to allow substitution of petitioners due to a conflict of interest under new GS 7B-302.1.

Makes the above provisions effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.

Section 4

Amends GS 7B-401.1 to allow a current caretaker or current foster parent providing care for the juvenile to intervene in the case if the current caretaker or current foster parent has authority to file a petition to terminate the parental rights of the juvenile's parents under GS 7B-1103 (current law allows intervention by a foster parent but not a current caretaker). Makes organizational changes. 

Makes the above provisions effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.

Sections 5 and 6

Amends GS 7B-502 to explicitly condition a judge's authority to issue nonsecure custody orders upon the filing of a juvenile petition under GS 7B-405. Replaces the existing authority of a chief district court judge to delegate the court's authority to other persons by administrative order to instead authorize delegation to any magistrate by administrative order, filed in the office of the clerk of superior court. Enacts a new requirement for counties to have a judge or delegated magistrate available at all times with whom the department can file a juvenile petition in order to seek nonsecure custody of a juvenile. Makes a conforming change to GS 7B-506.

Section 7

Amends GS 7B-508, which authorizes communications relating to temporary custody or nonsecure custody to be made by telephone when other means are impractical, to require a copy of the petition to be provided to the judge or magistrate who is delegated authority by GS 7B-502 by any appropriate secure method, including hand delivery, fax, or encrypted electronic means. Modifies the requirements of written orders made pursuant to telephonic communication to now require the order to bear the title of the person requesting and receiving telephonic approval, the name and title of the judge or magistrate approving the initial nonsecure custody order, the signature and title of the judicial official entering the order, and the hour and date of the authorization. 

Section 8

Amends GS 7B-600, authorizing the court to appoint co-guardians of a juvenile. Enacts a new subsection, (b2), allowing for a co-guardian to file a motion for a review hearing under GS 7B-906.1 when the relationship between permanent co-guardians dissolves. Requires the court to consider the needs of the juvenile and enter an order addressing the guardianship and whether it is in the best interest of the juvenile. Authorizes the court to maintain the placement or order any disposition authorized by GS 7B-903. Allows the court to terminate the permanent guardianship of one or both co-guardians based on the dissolution of their relationship and the best interest of the juvenile. Authorizes the court to maintain the co-guardianship and modify the order to address physical and legal custody of the juvenile. Requires the court to consider whether custody rather than guardianship is in the juvenile's best interest, and if so, enter a custody order under GS 7B-911. Clarifies that the grounds for termination of a guardianship under subsection (b) apply to the termination of a permanent guardianship, and adds the dissolution of the relationship between co-guardians described in new subsection (b2) to the grounds for termination. 

Section 9

Amends GS 7B-602 to no longer require appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent a parent who is under 18 and not married or otherwise emancipated. Specifies that a parent cannot be found incompetent solely due to the parent being an unemancipated minor. Effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.

Enacts GS 7B-604, creating a new requirement for each county department of social services to be represented by legal counsel in proceedings governed by Subchapter I (Abuse, Neglect, Dependency). Requires an attorney representing the department to receive six hours of training addressing State and federal child welfare law and procedures, prior to initial representation, and six hours of continuing legal education addressing child welfare law annually thereafter. Effective January 1, 2024.

Section 10

Amends GS 7B-903.1(c), regarding required observation visits with juvenile and the parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker from whom the juvenile was removed, to specify that the department can recommend unsupervised visits or return of physical custody of the juvenile, whichever occurs first. Effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.

Section 11

Amends GS 7B-903.2 to remove DHHS from the parties or entities that can make a limited appearance for the sole purpose of filing a motion regarding a juvenile's continued stay in an emergency department or subsequent hospital admission when the requirements of GS 122C-142.2(b) through (f1) (concerning juveniles presenting to a hospital for mental health treatment; as amended) have not been satisfied. Makes conforming changes to remove DHHS from the entities that automatically become a party to the proceeding for the limited purpose of participating in related hearings. Instead, establishes that DHHS, as a supervising principal of the county department, must be provided the opportunity to be heard of any motion filed related to the continued stay or subsequent admission. Provides for service of the motion on the hospital, LME/MCO or PHP, and DHHS in accordance with GS 1A-1, Rule 4. Enacts a new subsection to allow information regarding any failure of a hospital to cooperate in providing access to the juvenile under GS 122C-142.2 to be provided to the court as evidence in a hearing on the motion of a defense for the alleged violation by the department or LME/MCO or PHP. Now requires the motion to be heard within five business days of filing. Changes the evidentiary standard to whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the juvenile has met hospital discharge criteria and that the responsible party has not satisfied the requirements of GS 122C-142.2(b) through (f1), as amended (was, that there is no medical necessity for the juvenile to remain in the hospital). Allows the court to order the responsible party to pay reasonable hospital charges for the juvenile's continued stay (was, admission) at the hospital incurred after the date the juvenile met hospital discharge criteria. Makes conforming changes. Adds new a new provision establishing that dismissal of the motion due to the juvenile's discharge and placement does not preclude a separate cause of action for monetary damages. 

Section 12

Amends GS 7B-906.1, which sets forth procedures for review hearings and permanency planning hearings.

No longer designates hearings where custody has not been removed from a caretaker as a review hearing. Instead designates hearings where the juvenile was residing with a caretaker at the time the petition was filed as a permanency planning hearing.

Regarding the required criteria the court must consider at each hearing, requires the court to schedule a permanency planning hearing within 30 days if the juvenile is removed from the custody of the parent, guardian, or custodian (no longer waiving the requirement if the hearing was noticed and heard as a permanency planning hearing).

Establishes criteria that must be satisfied for an order that removes the juvenile from a parent, guardian, or custodian to be made, requiring, after the completion of the initial disposition or prior to the review hearing: (1) at least one factor required for nonsecure custody under GS 7B-503(a)(1) through (a) (4) has occurred, or at least one factor specified in GS 7B-901(c), which provides grounds for ceasing reunification, has occurred and the juvenile has experienced or is at substantial risk of experiencing physical or emotional harm as a result; or (2) the parent, guardian, or custodian consents to the order of removal. Establishes that the purpose of review hearings is to review the progress of the parent, guardian, or custodian with their court-ordered services. Mandates the parent, guardian, or custodian to complete court-ordered services within 12 months from the date of the filing of the petition, demonstrate that circumstances precipitating the department's involvement with the family have been resolved to the satisfaction of the court, and provide a safe home for the juvenile. Requires the court to terminate jurisdiction (was, waive future review hearings), absent extraordinary circumstances, when the parent, guardian, or custodian has successfully completed the court-ordered services and the juvenile is residing in a safe home.

Makes a clarifying change by specifying that the provisions of subsection (i), relating to a court's review of a juvenile's placement, apply to permanency planning hearings. Amends subsection (k) to refer to permanency planning review hearings (was, periodic judicial review of placement). Adds that the court cannot refuse to conduct a permanency planning hearing is a party files a motion seeking a hearing. Revises subsection (k1) to prohibit a court from refusing to conduct a review hearing if a party files a motion seeking the review, no longer qualifying that the party must allege a significant fact. Expands subsection (l), making GS 7B-903.1 apply to a court ordering or continuing placement in the custody or placement responsibility of the department. 

Makes changes to subsection (n) to clarify that the provisions apply to permanency planning hearings, now allowing the court to waive the hearings, require written reports in lieu of the hearings, or order less frequent hearings, if the court finds five criteria exist, by clear and convincing evidence (was, by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence). Changes two of the criteria to include: (1) that the juvenile has resided in the placement for at least one year or the parties are in agreement (was, or the juvenile has resided in the placement for at least six consecutive months), and the court enters a consent order; and (2) that the parties are aware that the matter may be brought before the court for review at any time by filing a permanency planning or modification motion (was, by filing a motion for review) or on the court's own motion. Makes technical changes.

Enacts new subsection (b1) to GS 9B-906.2, requiring the department to file a motion prior to any change in placement for a juvenile who has been residing with a relative or a nonrelative caretaker when there are not relatives who are willing and able to provide proper care and supervision to the juvenile in a safe home for 12 consecutive months, when the caretaker objects to the juvenile's removal. Establishes criteria for filing such a motion, including: (1) the juvenile must be in department custody; (2) adoption must be the primary permanent plan; and (3) the current caretaker must have notified the department of their desire to adopt the juvenile. Requires court review within 10 days of filing. Provides for notice to all parties, their attorneys, and the caretaker. Provides the caretaker with an opportunity to address the court, but prohibits making the caretaker a party solely based on the right to be heard. Details evidence the court may consider and required the court to determine if removal is in the best interest of the juvenile. Excludes from the new provisions cases where there are allegations of abuse or neglect of the juvenile under the care and supervision of the caretaker. Enacts new subsection (f) to require the court to advise a guardian or custodian of the right to seek child support after an order awarding permanent guardianship or custody has been entered. 

Makes the above provisions effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.

Section 13

Repeals GS 7B-904(d), which grants a court authority at the dispositional hearing or a subsequent hearing to order a parent, upon finding the parent is able, to pay reasonable child care costs to support the juvenile when legal custody of the juvenile is vested in someone other than the parent, with costs borne upon the department with custody if the parent is unable to pay. 

Amends GS 7B-1109, establishing the evidentiary standard at adjudicatory hearings on the termination of parental rights to be "clear and convincing evidence," rather than "clear, cogent, and convincing evidence."

Amends GS 7B-1111, changing the grounds for terminating parental rights as follows. Regarding abuse or neglect as grounds for termination, adds that neglect includes a biological or possible biological father of a child born out of wedlock who within three months of the child's birth or within 30 days of the discovery that the mother committed fraud in concealing her pregnancy or the birth, whichever is greater, has not made efforts to acknowledge or establish his paternity and formed or attempted to form a relationship with the child. Repeals the following grounds for termination: (1) placement of the juvenile with the department, a licensed child placing agency, a child-caring institution, or a foster home, and the parent, being able, willfully failed to pay the reasonable costs of care for six months preceding filing of the petition; (2) one parent having custody of the juvenile and the other parent has willfully failed to pay for the care, support, and education of the child as required by decree or agreement for at least one year; and (3) the father of a juvenile born out of wedlock has failed to establish or legitimate paternity through one of five described actions prior to the filing of the petition or motion. 

Amends GS 7B-1114 to allow the parent whose rights have been terminated to file a motion to reinstate the parent's rights (currently limited to the juvenile, the guardian ad litem attorney, or a department with custody of the juvenile), subject to the existing three conditions specified for motions for reinstatement. Makes conforming changes. 

Section 14

Amends GS 48-3-601, which defines person who must execute consent to an adoption. For consent required to be executed by men who may or may not be the biological father of the minor, requires consent for, among other descriptions, men who: (1) have legitimated the minor under the law of any state before the filing of the adoption petition or within three months of the child's birth, whichever is greater (previously required before the filing of the petition); (2) have acknowledged his paternity of the minor, and is either obligated to support the minor by agreement or court order, has provided or attempted to provide reasonable and consistent payments for support during or after pregnancy or of the minor, or has married or attempted to marry the mother of the minor after the minor's birth but before placement for adoption or mother's relinquishment, before the greater of the filing of the petition, within three months of the child's birth, or within 30 days of the discovery that the mother committed fraud in identifying the father or withheld the known identity of the father, or the date of a hearing held under GS 48-2-206 (previously, required before the earlier of the filing of the petition or the date of a hearing held under GS 42-2-206); or (3) have received the minor into his home and openly held out the minor as his biological child before filing the petition or within three months of the child's birth (previously, required before filing of the petition). 

Section 15

Amends GS 122C-142.2 concerning presentation of a juvenile at a hospital for mental health treatment. Changes the definition of a "director" to mean the director of the county department with custody of the juvenile, or their representative (was, the director of the county department in which the juvenile resides).

Upon a juvenile in the custody of a county department presenting to a hospital emergency department for mental health treatment, requires the hospital to contact and notify the director of the juvenile's presentment. Requires the director to contact the appropriate LME/MCO or PHP as soon as practicable, not later than 24 hours, of the juvenile's stay in the hospital to request an assessment (previously, required contact within 24 hours of the determination that the juvenile should not remain at the hospital and no appropriate placement is immediately available, to request an assessment). Shortens the time within which the LME/MCO or PHP must arrange for the assessment to within 48 hours following notification from the director (was, within five business days). Adds a new requirement for the hospital to cooperate with the LME/MCO or PHP to provide access to the juvenile during the juvenile's stay in the hospital. Following the assessment, requires placement, as determined by the director, as soon as practicable and not later than five business days (was, within five business days). Adds a new subsection (d1), prohibiting the hospital from releasing the juvenile unless (1) the juvenile meets hospital discharge criteria; (2) the placement as recommended by the assessment is available; or (3) there is consent of the juvenile or director authorized to consent to treatment pursuant to GS 7B-505.1.

Revises the provisions of subsection (f), regarding required notification of DHHS's Rapid Response Team when the director or LME/MCO or PHP is unable to identify an appropriate available placement after completion of the assessment, or the assessment recommendations differ. Instead requires the director, an LME/MCO or PHP to notify the Rapid Response Team (Team), as defined, if any one of four described circumstances exists, including: (1) the anticipated inability to identify an appropriate available placement or provider; (2) the assessment recommendations differ from the preferences of the individual or director authorized to consent to treatment under GS 7B-505.1 or from services readily available; (3) there are delays in accessing needed behavioral health assessments; or (4) the juvenile has been released in violation of required criteria under new subsection (d1). Organizes disclosure authority into new subsection (f1), and expands the authority to allow LME/MCOs and PHPs, in addition to directors, to disclose confidential information as to the Team. Upon notification, requires the Team to determine if action is necessary to address the immediate needs of the juvenile, and if determined necessary, requires the Team to develop a plan with the LME/MCO or PHP regarding steps to meet the juvenile's treatment needs. Eliminates the previously examples of responses. Requires any plan to include monitoring the plan's implementation.

Enacts new subsection (h) to limit Team meetings to members of the Team and individuals from relevant county departments, LME/MCOs, and PHPs that are invited by the Team. Deems meetings not public and all information shared or created at meetings or as response not public record. Bars disclosure or redisclosure of information unless authorized by state or federal law. Enacts new subsection (i), establishing a monthly reporting requirement for LME/MCOs and PHPs, notifying DSS of the number of county department notifications of assessments, the length of time to find placement, and the number of recommendations at each level of care. 

Section 16

Cites the section's provisions as "Christal's Law."

Enacts GS 108A-74(a5), granting the Secretary of the DHHS authority to: have access to records and information pertaining to any open or closed child welfare case of the department; inquire into and review any county social work practice; or inquire into and review the legal representation of the county or regional department as it pertains to the delivery of child welfare services for a particular child welfare case or all child welfare cases of the department. Provides that the authority may be exercised as part of regular performance monitoring, or in response to complaints to DHHS regarding a juvenile who has been the subject of a report of abuse, neglect, or dependency within the previous 12 months, or a case in which the juvenile or their family was a recipient of child welfare services within the previous 12 months. Directs the Secretary to notify the respective county board of commissioners, the county manager, and the board of social services upon finding violations of state law or rules occurring in any specific case or cases, and direct the director to remedy the violation by taking immediate action as prescribed by the Secretary. Deems no other authorities of the Secretary affected by these provisions. 

Section 17

Makes the following changes to GS Chapter 48 concerning adoptions. 

Enacts GS 48-3-708 to allow a parent(s) of a minor adoptee and the prospective adoptive parent(s) to voluntarily participate in a court-approved mediation program to reach a voluntary mediated post-adoption contact agreement, prior to executing a relinquishment. Adds that a biological parent under 18 has legal capacity to enter such agreement and is fully bound by the agreement as if 18 or older. Directs AOC to develop and make available appropriate forms for implementation. Establishes venue for approval and enforcement of agreements as the district court having jurisdiction under GS Chapter 7B. Allows others to be invited to participate in mediation by mutual consent of the parent(s) executing relinquishment and the prospective adoptive parent(s), but bars making such invitees parties or receiving copies of any agreement. Deems proceedings and related information confidential and prohibits disclosure of any information or statements of participants. Provides that otherwise admissible evidence is not rendered inadmissible. Prohibits making a record of the proceedings and requires the mediator to destroy their notes immediately after mediation. Provides for court review of the agreement to determine whether the agreement will be incorporated into the court order. Requires a closed hearing; limits parties to those executing the agreement; and does not grant a right to appointed counsel. Requires court approval of the agreement if the court finds the agreement is in the best interests of the child, based on five described factors, and that that the agreement was entered into knowingly and voluntarily by all parties, supported by an affidavit. Sets forth four statements that must be included in the agreements, and requires enforceable agreements to be written, approved by the court prior to relinquishment, and incorporated into any adoption decree to survive as an independent agreement. Deems the agreement unenforceable upon the child turning 18 or otherwise becoming emancipated. Grants the issuing court continuing jurisdiction over the agreement's enforcement. Provides for a party to file a motion for review to modify, enforce, or discontinue the agreement and describes procedures for a review. Deems an order for modification, enforcement, or discontinuance the sole remedy for breach of the agreement. Details restrictions and limitations of orders for modification. Authorizes the court to impose appropriate sanctions. Specifies that the statute does not abrogate the rights of the adoptive parents except as provided in the agreement. 

Amends GS 48-1-101 to define post-adoption contract agreement and order.

Amends GS 48-1-106 to authorize former parents to exercise rights established in a post-adoption contact agreement and order. 

Amends GS 48-2-100 to grant the district court jurisdiction over post-adoption contact agreements and orders. Amends GS 48-2-102 to reflect the court's retained jurisdiction pursuant to new GS 48-3-708. 

Amends GS 48-2-607 to explicitly prohibit setting aside a final order of adoption due to failure of an adoptive parent, former parent, or adoptee to follow the terms of a post-adoption contact agreement and order.

Amends GS 48-3-702 to require the individual before whom a relinquishment is signed to certify that original or copy of the post-adoption contact agreement and order has been given to the parent, guardian, or minor to be adopted executing the relinquishment. 

Amends GS 48-3-703 and GS 48-3-705, regarding the mandatory provisions of relinquishment and their consequences, to exclude rights and duties contained in a post-adoption contact agreement and order from termination. 

Amends GS 48-3-706, establishing that if any person is a party to the post-adoption contact agreement and revokes the relinquishment, the post-adoption contact agreement and order are void; excludes persons with physical custody who relinquishes a minor and thereafter revokes the relinquishment pursuant to subsection (b). 

Amends GS 7B-9-102 to deem post-adoption contact agreements not open for inspection by any person other than the parties to the agreement or their attorneys pending review by the court to determine whether the agreement will be incorporated into a court order. 

Amends GS 7B-401.1 to require a parent who has relinquished the juvenile for adoption and has entered a post-adoption contact agreement and order pursuant to new GS 48-3-708 to be made a party to a petition filed alleging that the juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent. 

Amends GS 7B-908 to require a parent who has relinquished the juvenile for adoption and entered a post-adoption contact agreement and order to be given notice of placement reviews post-termination of parental rights. Adds that the parent who has relinquished the juvenile and entered a post-adoption contact agreement and order has the right to participate in the review hearings, except as directed by the court. 

Makes the above provisions effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.

Section 18

Amends GS 7B-323, which allows for judicial review a director's determination of abuse or serious neglect and identification of a responsible individual upon the identified individual filing a petition for review. Now allows for review if less than one year has passed since the person's placement on the responsible individuals list and if the review serves the interest of justice or for other good cause (previously, permitted review at any time if the review serves the interests of justice or for extraordinary circumstances). 

Enacts GS 7B-325 to allow a person whose name has been placed on the responsible individuals list to file a petition for expungement if three conditions are satisfied: (1) one year has passed since placement without judicial review, though eligible; (2) at least three years have passed since placement after judicial review; and (3) at least five years have passed since the person, who was criminally convicted for the same incident completed their sentence, complied with all post-release conditions and has not been convicted of any offense other than a traffic violation. Disqualifies persons whose conviction related to sexual abuse of a child, human trafficking, or a child fatality related to abuse or neglect. Details procedures related to the petition, including requiring filing with the district court in the county in which the abuse or serious neglect report arose; notifying the director of that county; maintaining a separate docket for these actions; and calendaring the matter for hearing within 45 days or at the next session of juvenile court. Requires closing the hearing at the request of a party. Provides for evidence the court may consider. Requires the hearing to be before a judge and without a jury. States preserved rights of the parties. Lists factors the court must consider in determining whether to grant the petition, including the nature of the offense and the amount of time since placement on the list. Authorizes the court to grant the petition upon finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that there is little likelihood that the petitioner will be a future perpetrator of child abuse or neglect. Requires the court to enter the order within 30 days of the hearing. If granted, the court must order the director to expunge the individual's name from the responsible individuals list.

Makes the above provisions effective October 1, 2023, and applicable to all actions filed or pending on or after that date.