Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group
The name “Responsible Individuals List” may sound like an accolade to parents; however, this is a misnomer. For those unfortunate enough to find their family in the midst of an investigation of child abuse, neglect, and dependency the List is likely to be mentioned. It is important that anyone who finds themselves in this situation be aware of what the term means and the ramifications of being on this list.
The Responsible Individuals List and Consequences
The actual list is comprised of the names of individuals who are found to be responsible for the abuse and serious neglect of a juvenile. The List was created by statute in 2006 in response to federal requirements under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). The primary goal of the federal regulation was to create a child abuse registry that was accessible to certain authorized agencies which must determine the fitness of an individual to care for or adopt children.
In 2010, the NC Court of Appeals held that placement on the List impacts an individual’s Constitutionally protected liberty interest. In re W.B.M., 690 S.E.2d 41 (N.C. App. 2010). Placement on the List can prevent an individual from being able to care for children, whether it be through employment, fostering or adopting. Although the List can affect a person’s ability to care for children, the statutes do not address the length of time an individual is placed on the List. The statutes also do not provide for an expungement procedure after a specified period has expired.
The List and Caring for One’s Children
Although placement on the List can prevent a person from adopting or fostering, the List does not necessarily prohibit an individual from caring for their child. There are currently no cases in North Carolina that address being added to the Responsible Individuals List and then being denied reunification with your children. Further, North Carolina statute, the North Carolina Administrative Code and the Department of Social Services Manuals only address using the Responsible Individuals List for employment purposes or foster/adoption/kinship placement determinations. Currently, it appears the impact of being placed on the Responsible Individuals List is limited to children who are not biologically your own.
List Maintenance and Availability of Information
Once placed on the List, a common question individuals have is who will have access to this information. The Responsible Individuals List is confidential. N.C.G.S. 7B-311(b) The List is a statewide digital registry, which is maintained by the NC Division of Social Services. Only “authorized persons” are entitled to access the information from the Responsible Individuals List.
“Authorized persons” includes someone whose job duties involve maintaining the list, designated representatives from group homes, foster homes, child care providers, adoption services providers, county departments of social services, and the administrator for the State Guardian ad Litem program among others.
Even if one of these authorized persons wants to know if an individual is on the list, getting the information is not easy. Inquiries as to whether a specific person is on the List are required to be in writing. The inquiry also has to include the person’s full name, date of birth, social security number, and gender. This information is required because if a disclosure is made to a non-authorized person, the person who made the disclosure can be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor. N.C.G.S. 7B-311(c)
Currently, the list does not appear to follow the individual out of the state of North Carolina. The computer program in which the list is maintained is a State computer program and is not currently entered into a federal system or program. There is also no provision in the state statutes, administrative code or manuals for reporting the North Carolina Responsible Individuals List information to other state or federal agencies or databases.