An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA02-1392

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 5 August 2003

IN THE MATTER OF:

ERIC FOSTER                            

                            Johnston County                                     No. 00 J 222

    Appeal by respondent from judgment entered 14 May 2002 by Judge Jacquelyn L. Lee in Johnston County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 11 June 2003.

    Terry F. Rose for respondent appellant.                

    W.A. Holland, Jr. for petitioner appellee.

    TIMMONS-GOODSON, Judge.

    Jennifer Foster (“respondent”) appeals the order terminating her parental rights as to her son, Eric James Foster (“juvenile”). For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the order of termination by the trial court.
    The facts pertinent to the instant appeal are as follows: Respondent is the natural mother of juvenile, born on 6 March 1997. Juvenile's legal father is James Clinton Foster, Jr. (“James”) and his name appears on juvenile's birth certificate; however, James relinquished his paternal rights to juvenile on 16 August 2001. Therefore, James was not a necessary party to this matter. Respondent claimed that juvenile's biological father is Harold Lightfoot (“Lightfoot”). Lightfoot is deceased and his paternityas to juvenile was not established prior to his death. Because the issue of paternity was raised by respondent, the Johnston County Department of Social Services proceeded against respondent and the unknown father.
    In December 1999, respondent and juvenile resided with Larry Thigpen (“Thigpen”). At that time, the Wayne County Department of Social Services placed juvenile in foster care due to domestic violence issues between respondent and Thigpen. Thereafter, respondent went to live with James, and juvenile was returned to her care. In October 2000, seven months after juvenile's return, the Johnston County Department of Social Services (“DSS”) received several reports that juvenile was neglected and abused. Upon investigation, DSS determined that respondent was leaving juvenile in the care of others while she disappeared for several days without contacting juvenile or the caretakers. The caretakers were often unable to provide food or other basic needs for juvenile and could not contact respondent. At that time, DSS attempted to provide numerous services to respondent, but she failed to seek housing or utilize daycare services provided for juvenile. There was also some indication that respondent was again living with Thigpen and abusing alcohol. As a result, juvenile was again removed from respondent's care on 14 November 2000.
    On 3 August 2001, DSS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent and unknown father. The petition alleged that respondent neglected juvenile and willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for juvenile for acontinuous period of six months. The matter came before the court on 17 April 2002. Respondent was present at the hearing and represented by counsel. At the time of trial, juvenile remained in foster care and respondent had only visited with juvenile on two occasions. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the trial court then made the following pertinent findings of fact:
        10. On or about December 8, 2000, the Court found that [juvenile] was neglected and dependent and determined that there should be no more reasonable efforts at reunification with either the father or [respondent] as such efforts would be futile and inconsistent with the juvenile's health, safety and welfare . . .
        
        11. The Court accepted into evidence without objection a copy of the order adjudicating [juvenile] neglected because of [respondent's] inability to supervise and properly control [juvenile] and her further inability to maintain a stable home and provide proper care and supervision for [juvenile], and the disposition order.
        
        . . . .
        
        13. . . . A psychological evaluation was accomplished indicating that [respondent] experiences chronic and serious affective disorders concerning anxiety for which [respondent] testified she went to Dr. Landau on a regular basis, almost monthly. The Court notes that the doctor prescribed [respondent] medication which she took on a regular basis and frequently requested excessive amounts of the medication. . . . The Court further notes that following the evaluation at the Johnston County Mental Health Center, [respondent] did not follow through on any recommendations or seek further appointments. The Court further finds . . . that [respondent] went to [the Wayne County Mental Health Center] seeking an evaluation and treatment, but missed five out of eleven appointments. The Court notes that these appointments were initiated shortly after the filing of this petition for atermination of parental rights and [respondent] has not followed through on any of those appointments since that time. . . .
        
        . . . .        
        15. The Court . . . finds as a fact the conditions leading to removal of [juvenile] have not been resolved as of this hearing. [Respondent] . . . relocated approximately two weeks prior to this court hearing . . . because she was unable to pay the rent and the individual with whom she was living, who was paying the rent, had made other arrangements resulting in [respondent] moving into a home with a relative where that relatives father had paid the rent. [Respondent] testified that she had lived at the Salvation Army for approximately six months from June to November of 2001, meeting someone at that place who arranged accommodations for her and him in a mobile home where she lived and worked with him for cash payments. . . .
        
        16. The Court addressed the issue of whether or not [respondent] paid reasonable cost or support for the child in foster care. . . . the Court finds that the board rate for providing for a child exceeds $400.00 per month; juvenile has been in foster care since December of 2000. [Respondent] entered into a voluntary support agreement with the Johnston County Child Support Enforcement Agency with a payment of $95.00 per month due plus $5.00 per month on past pay public assistance in the amount of $475.00. The Court finds that [respondent] failed to pay her May, June, July and August of 2001 payments such that at the time of the filling of the petition [respondent] had paid no funds whatsoever for the support of [juvenile]. The Court notes [that respondent] did mail letters and provide birthday and Christmas gifts to [juvenile]; however, the Court finds that she has willfully failed and refused to pay any amounts as ordered by the Court pursuant to a voluntary support agreement for the benefit and maintenance of [juvenile]. The Court further finds that she was capable of working and paying support as evidenced by the fact that she had a job working at the Brian Center during the month of May 2001, when the firstpayment was due. The Court finds that she lost that job as a result of her own actions. The Court further finds . . . that [respondent] has had multiple jobs since January 1, 2001, earning sufficient from which she could have paid $100.00 per month as child support for the benefit of [juvenile].
        
        17. The Court further finds that [respondent] has lived in eight different places since the inception of this case and has not remained at any one of those places for more than sixty days with the exception of the Salvation Army where she stayed for approximately six months according to her own testimony. The Court further finds that although [respondent] was able to find money to buy medication for her chronic anxiety, to attend regular appointments with her doctor, sometimes twice a month and not less than once per month, she was unable to make any payments for the benefit of [juvenile] and unwilling to pursue assistance through either the Johnston County Mental Health Center or the Wayne County Mental Health Center in addressing these psychological issues relating to her stability, parenting skills and proper care and supervision of [juvenile].
        
        18. The Court finds as a fact that grounds of termination of parental rights exist in that the mother has neglected the child resulting in his removal as defined in N.C. GEN. STAT. 7B-101 in that this neglect is likely to continue for an indefinite period in that [respondent] has continued the same behavior patterns that led to removal since the date of removal up to and including the date of this hearing. The Court further finds as a fact that grounds exist in that [respondent] has failed to pay a reasonable portion of care for [juvenile], although financially and physically able to do so in that she had income from various sources in which she could have paid $100.00 per month, but paid nothing for the six months proceeding the filing of this action in August of 2001.
        
        . . . .        
        20. The Court addresses the best interest[s] of [juvenile] and finds as fact . . . that after being placed in foster care [juvenile] was referred to the developmental evaluation center. He was enrolled in daycare to address poor socialization skills and speech delay. Speech therapy was initiated for him along with services at the Johnston County Mental Health Center for counseling to address reoccurring nightmares, fears of being left alone, and regression in toilet and attachment issues. Since being placed in foster care, [juvenile] has shown significant improvement in socialization and although the developmental evaluation center accessed him at low average level, he has thrived since placement in foster care and improved his position in practically every regard tested. The Court finds as a fact . . . the best interests of [juvenile] require[s] that parental rights of [respondent] and the unknown father be terminated. The Court has required pursuant to the provisions of NCGS 7B-1110 and determines from the facts here and above and set forth that two grounds of termination of parental rights exist and the best interests of [juvenile] require that rights should be terminated.

Based on the above-stated findings, the trial court entered the following conclusions of law:
        1. That it is in the best interest of [juvenile] that parental rights of [respondent] and the unknown father be terminated. Grounds for termination of parental rights exist, pursuant to the provisions of G.S. 7B-1111(1) as they pertain to each parent.
        
        2. The Court further finds as a fact by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that [respondent] has neglected [juvenile] as defined in N.C.G.S. 7B-101 and that such neglect has continued since the initiation of the petition in Johnston County and is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.
                3. The Court further finds by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that [respondent] has willfully [failed to pay] for a continuous period of six months next preceding the filing of the petition to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the juvenile although [respondent] was physically and financially able to do so.
        
        4. The Court further finds by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that [juvenile] has been placed in the custody of the Johnston County Department of Social Services for a continuous period of six (6) months next preceding the filing of the petition and the unknown biological father has willfully failed for such period to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for juvenile.
        
        5. The Court further finds by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the unknown father has not taken any action to establish paternity judicially or by affidavit, legitimated the child pursuant to the provisions of N.C. GEN. STAT. § 49-10 or filed a petition for this specific purpose or legitimated the juvenile by marriage to the mother or provided any financial support or consistent care with respect to the juvenile and [respondent].

The trial court therefore terminated the parental rights of respondent and the unknown father as to juvenile. Respondent appeals.

____________________________________________

    Respondent presents three assignments of error on appeal, arguing that (1) there was not clear, cogent and convincing evidence that she neglected juvenile; (2) there was not clear, cogent and convincing evidence that she failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for juvenile; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by concluding that it was in the bestinterests of juvenile to terminate respondent's parental rights. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
    A proceeding for termination of parental rights involves two stages: (1) the adjudicatory stage, governed by section 7B-1109, and (2) the dispositional stage, governed by section 7B-1110. See N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1109, 7B-1110 (2001); In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 290, 536 S.E.2d 838, 840 (2000), disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9 (2001). At the adjudication stage, the petitioner must show by “clear, cogent and convincing evidence” the existence of one or more of the statutory grounds for termination of parental rights set forth in section 7B-1111. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(e) and (f) (2001); In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. 101, 110, 316 S.E.2d 246, 252 (1984). The clear, cogent and convincing evidentiary standard is a greater standard than the preponderance of the evidence standard, but not as rigorous as the proof beyond a reasonable doubt requirement. See Montgomery at 109-110, 316 S.E.2d at 252. The trial court may terminate the parental rights on the basis of several grounds, and “[a] finding of any one of the . . . separately enumerated grounds is sufficient to support a termination.” In re Pierce, 67 N.C. App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1984). In a termination proceeding, this Court “should affirm the trial court where the court's findings of fact are based upon clear, cogent and convincing evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law.” In re Allred, 122 N.C. App. 561, 565, 471 S.E.2d 84, 86 (1996).     In her first assignment of error, respondent contends that there was not clear, cogent and convincing evidence that she neglected juvenile, and that the trial court therefore erred in otherwise finding. We disagree.
    In the case at bar, the trial court found and concluded that respondent neglected juvenile as set forth in section 7B-1111(a)(1) of the North Carolina General Statutes. Under this section a “neglected” juvenile is defined as follows:
        A juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker; or who has been abandoned; or who is not provided necessary medical care; or who is not provided necessary remedial care; or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile's welfare; or who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2001). “A prior adjudication of neglect may be admitted and considered by the trial court in ruling upon a later petition to terminate parental rights on the ground of neglect.” In re Ballard, 311 N.C. 708, 713-14, 319 S.E.2d 227, 231 (1984). In cases where a juvenile has been removed from the parents' custody before the termination hearing, and the petitioner presents evidence of prior neglect, including an adjudication of such neglect, “[t]he trial court must also consider any evidence of changed conditions in light of the evidence of prior neglect and the probability of a repetition of neglect.” Id. at 715, 319 S.E.2d at 232. “The determinative factors must be the best interests of the child and the fitness of the parent to care for the child at the time of the termination proceeding.” Id. Therefore, “[i]f there is no evidence of neglect at the time of the termination proceeding . . . parental rights may nonetheless be terminated if there is a showing of a past adjudication of neglect and the trial court finds by clear and convincing evidence a probability of repetition of neglect if the juvenile were returned to [the] parents.” In re Reyes, 136 N.C. App. 812, 815, 526 S.E.2d 499, 501 (2000).
    In the case at bar, the trial court incorporated into its findings of fact a prior order adjudicating juvenile neglected, and the trial court found as fact that there was evidence of prior neglect and the probability of a repetition of neglect in that respondent continued to exhibit behaviors which led to the removal of juvenile. We note that the circumstances which led to juvenile's removal include respondent's inability to maintain a stable and safe living environment for juvenile as well as respondent's abuse of alcohol.
    Testimony from respondent reveals that her life is no more stable now than it was when juvenile was removed from her custody. Respondent moved a total of eight times since working with DSS and failed to remain at any residence for longer than a sixty day period. Respondent testified that the longest residence she has maintained was at the Salvation Army for approximately six months. Moreover, respondent relocated two weeks prior to the hearing for termination of her parental rights. At the time of the hearing, respondent did not have a stable living arrangement and had failed to correct the conditions which led to the removal of juvenile fromher custody. A complete examination of the record further reveals that respondent has difficulty meeting her own needs and is not capable of supporting and appropriately meeting the needs of juvenile.
Respondent has also failed to address her substance abuse issues and gave the following testimony regarding her involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous:
        Q: Why do you go to AA?
        
        A: Because -- just so I won't drink. I mean, I have no problem with drinking and I want to learn more about, you know, substance abuse so I won't fall in the category of being a drunkard.

Despite her involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous, respondent received approximately two citations for driving while intoxicated and had other pending criminal charges at the time of trial. In addition, respondent received a psychological assessment which indicated that she had numerous mental health issues. Testimony from Christine Winthrop, a clinical social worker, reveals that respondent failed to address her mental health needs and missed five out of eleven appointments with the Wayne County Mental Health Center. Given the facts of this case, there was sufficient findings of fact to support the trial court's conclusion of law that grounds exist to terminate respondent's parental rights. Therefore, we hold that grounds for termination of respondent's parental rights under section 7B-1111(a)(1) were established by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. Respondent's first assignment of error is overruled.     By her second assignment of error, respondent argues that the trial court committed error in finding that she failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for juvenile, although she was physically and financially able to pay such cost. Because we have upheld the trial court's findings and conclusions regarding neglect, we need not address respondent's assignment of error contesting termination based on her failure to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for juvenile. A finding of any one of the enumerated termination grounds is sufficient to support the order of the trial court. In re Taylor, 97 N.C. App. 57, 64, 387 S.E.2d 230, 233-34 (1990).
    In her final assignment of error, respondent argues that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that it was in the best interests of juvenile to terminate respondent's parental rights. We disagree.
    “Once the court has determined that grounds for terminating parental rights are present, the court then 'moves to the disposition stage to determine whether it is in the best interests of the child to terminate the parental rights.'” In re Leftwich, 135 N.C. App. 67, 71, 518 S.E.2d 799, 802 (1999) (quoting In re Young, 346 N.C. 244, 247, 485 S.E.2d 612, 615 (1997)). The trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is reviewed on an abuse of discretion standard. See In re Brim, 139 N.C. App. 733, 745, 535 S.E.2d 367, 374 (2000); see also In re Allred, 122 N.C. App. at 569, 471 S.E.2d at 88. This Court is bound by the trial courts findings of fact where there is sufficient “evidence tosupport those findings, even though the evidence might sustain findings to the contrary.” In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. 101, 110- 11, 316 S.E.2d 246, 253 (1984).
    Here, the evidence presented at trial supports a finding and conclusion that respondent demonstrated a pattern of neglect toward juvenile, which was likely to continue, and that it was in the best interests of juvenile that respondent's parental rights be terminated. Testimony from Kelly Massengill (“Massengill”), a social worker with DSS, reveals that when juvenile was removed from respondent's care he tested on a low-average scale of cognition, and was delayed in the areas of socialization and speech. Juvenile also suffered from reoccurring nightmares, attachment issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Massengill testified that respondent was offered services to improve juvenile's speech, but failed to seek those services. Massengill further testified that juvenile has improved developmentally, has thrived in foster care and that the permanent plan for him is adoption. Therefore, it was well within the trial court's discretion to conclude that juvenile's best interests would be served by terminating respondent's parental rights in order for adoption to take place. We therefore hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in terminating respondent's parental rights.
    In conclusion, we hold that the trial court did not err in terminating the parental rights of respondent and the unknown father as to juvenile. The order of the trial court is therefore
    Affirmed.    Judges HUNTER and ELMORE concur.     
    Report per Rule 30(e).
    

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