Are you a Responsible Individual?
Let’s hope not. At least, not for the purposes of the North Carolina Responsible Individuals List (RIL). The RIL is a list maintained by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services of people who are the parent, guardian or custodian of a child who has been abused or seriously neglected (NCGS 7B-101(18a)). It is a statewide list that is accessible by any agency, government entity, business or organization for child care. This includes, but is not limited to, adoption agencies, day-care facilities, group homes and child welfare programs.
Who is a responsible individual? To be placed on the RIL, the NC DHHS must prove the following:
- A child has been abused or seriously neglected.
- Abuse – includes physical, mental and emotional damage to a child committed by the individual OR by someone else with the knowledge/consent of the individual.
- Seriously neglected – action or inaction by the individual that results in an “unequivocal danger to the child’s health, welfare or safety, but does not constitute abuse.” (NCGS 7B-101(19a)).
- The individual committed abuse or serious neglect.
- The NC DHHS must show that the individual caused and/or inflicted the serious neglect or abuse on the child.
- The individual is the child’s parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker.
Who decides who is a “responsible individual”? When a claim of abuse or neglect is reported to the NC DHHS, it must be investigated and the claim is either substantiated or unsubstantiated. If it is substantiated, the department will include in its decision whether or not they believe there is a “responsible individual” who should be placed on the RIL.
The equivalent to this is when the police identify a “perpetrator.” Much like law enforcement, NC DHHS is supposed to conduct its entire investigation prior to identifying a “responsible individual.” Only when they can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the identified individual meets all three requirements should they seek to place them on the RIL.
When NC DHHS decides to place someone on the RIL, they must notify them and give them detailed information on how to request a judicial review of the department’s findings. Once a petition for judicial review is filed, the person cannot be placed on the RIL until a hearing is held in District Court to determine if the department came to the right conclusion.
Why is the RIL a problem?
- Lack of legal counsel – CPS/NCDHHS investigations are not often related to criminal charges. As such, most people don’t have legal counsel to advise them what the RIL is or how to fight it. Once you receive notice that you are being placed on the RIL, you only have 15 days to request a hearing. Failure to request a hearing is considered a waiver of the right to a hearing. If you do manage to file the petition for judicial review in a timely manner, you are not entitled to an attorney. You can hire your own or represent yourself – the court will not appoint you one.
- Deprivation of rights – Placement on the RIL will prevent someone from being able to foster or adopt children, work in a childcare facility or with an organization dedicated to child welfare. This would include teachers, pediatric nurses, day-care facilities and after-school programs.
- No removal process – If you are convicted of any crime related to the allegations made by NCDHHS, you are not entitled to judicial review of any kind and will be placed on the RIL without a hearing. Once you are on the list, whether by hearing or conviction, there is no limit to the length of time your name will be listed. None of the statutes governing the RIL specify the amount of time someone’s name is on the list. Finally, once on the list by conviction or order of the court, there is no process to have your name expunged and/or removed from the list.
Most would agree that someone who abuses their child shouldn’t be allowed to work with or care for other children. Does it follow that they should never be allowed to work with or care for other children? Do we want to leave it in the hands of the NCDHHS/CPS to determine what is “abuse” or “serious neglect”?
Scenario #1 – Newly widowed father of three goes to the store and leaves his oldest child in charge of the other two children. All of the children are under 13 years of age. The youngest child burns himself. The oldest child calls 911. The police arrive with EMS and report the father to CPS for neglect/possible abuse. Ultimately, the claim is substantiated and Dad receives a notice that the NCDHHS seeks to place him on the RIL. Five years later, Dad and his three children are very happy. Dad completed a parenting class and the NCDHHS closed their case. No further incidents have occurred. Dad goes to apply at the local high school for a job coaching basketball – he wants to spend more time with his children who are all now approaching high school. His application is denied – he is a “responsible individual.”
Scenario #2 – A young mother is in an abusive marriage with two small children. The father has never abused the children but is a severe alcoholic. One evening, the mother hears the father hitting one of the children in a neighboring room. She tries to get into the room, but it’s locked. Eventually, she gets into the room, grabs her children and fights her way out of the house. She calls 911– Child Protective Services is alerted based on the claim of physical abuse to the children. CPS substantiates a claim against the father AND files a claim against the mother for not removing her children from the relationship sooner. She receives notice that NCDHHS wants to place her on the RIL. She is identified as a “responsible individual” for serious neglect.
Scenario #3 – A 13 year-old boy lives with his grandparents who are his legal guardians. His father is in prison and his mother is incapable of caring for him. The teenage boy has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He often refuses to take medication and has recently become violent. His grandparents are exhausted and at a loss for what to do. One night, the boy becomes very violent and throws a chair at his grandmother. His grandfather responds by slapping him and pinning him against the wall until he stops throwing things. The grandparents then call 911. The police arrive and the incident is report to CPS. A claim of abuse is filed against the grandfather. The case is closed after the family attends some group-therapy sessions and CPS is satisfied that this was a one-time event. The grandfather then receives notice that the NCDHHS have identified him as a “responsible individual” for abuse to his grandson.
None of the above individuals are entitled to an attorney. All of them NEED an attorney. Call us today if you think you may be a “responsible individual.”