An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA04-966

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 2 August 2005


IN THE MATTER OF:
C.P.D., K.C.D., and T.M.D.,            Onslow County
        Minor Children.            No. 02 J 412-14                 &nb sp;      

    Appeal by respondent mother from order entered 19 September 2003 by Judge Carol A. Jones in Onslow County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 May 2005.

    Cindy Goddard Strope and Annick Peek, for petitioner-appellee Onslow County Department of Social Services.

    Adrian M. Lapas, for respondent mother-appellant.

    No brief filed on behalf of Guardian ad Litem.


    LEVINSON, Judge.

    Respondent mother appeals the order terminating her parental rights over C.P.D., K.C.D., and T.M.D. entered 19 September 2003. We affirm.
    Respondent mother and her former husband, C.D. are the parents of K.C.D. and T.M.D. Although respondent and C.D. were married at the time of C.P.D.'s birth, respondent is not certain that C.D. is the natural father of C.P.D. who, as respondent's oldest son, was born in 1992; K.C.D. and T.M.D., two of respondent's daughters, were born in 1993 and 1997 respectively. Respondent lives with her husband M.M., by whom she has had three more children. None of respondent's six children are currently in her custody.     On 23 January 2001,the Onslow County Department of Social Services (DSS) substantiated physical abuse and neglect of C.P.D., K.C.D., and T.M.D. (the children). On 12 March 2001 DSS filed a petition for non-secure custody of the three children. An order was entered 29 October 2001 adjudicating C.P.D. physically abused and neglected, and both K.C.D. and T.M.D. neglected. Respondent had left the children home alone on several occasions. By a subsequent adjudication order, entered 28 June 2002, the trial court concluded all three children were abused and neglected. The court determined, inter alia, that C.P.D. had been sexually abused by respondent's former husband, C.D.; C.P.D. had been punched and thrown by his stepfather, M.M.; C.P.D was emotionally abused as a result of respondent's statements to him that M.M. had killed his father; C.P.D. lived in an injurious environment; M.M. had punched and slapped K.C.D.; respondent had failed to protect K.C.D. and had subjected K.C.D. to an injurious environment; T.M.D. was physically abused as a result of being slapped and punched by M.M.; and T.M.D. was subjected to an injurious environment by being present when one or more of the other children were being physically abused. Pursuant to the trial court's order of 28 June 2002, DSS retained custody of the children, the permanency goal was changed to termination of parental rights and adoption, and respondent's visitation remained suspended.
    DSS worker Stephanie Goodson testified. Goodson has been the children's case worker since May 2002. Goodson has had contact with respondent three times: on the telephone twice in August 2002and once in August 2003 when respondent brought gifts for the children to her office. Goodson testified that prior to August 2003, the therapist had not recommended that the children receive anything from respondent.
    DSS worker Jennifer Colley testified. Ms. Colley was the worker from April 2001 until April 2002. She supervised seven or eight visits between respondent and the children. Colley described her interactions with respondent. Colley testified, “[Respondent] made comments such as 'they weren't removed from my home, they were removed from Junior's.' Not accepting any accountability as to why the kids were in care, . . . and when I would try to talk with her about the visit, the conversation would escalate, we had to have the security guard on standby at all times and then frequently she would leave the room.” Several of Colley's telephone conversations with respondent ended with respondent using profanity, and “yelling and screaming.” During her visits with the children, respondent sat on the couch and did not interact with the children. Respondent would also tell the children of “surprises” waiting for them at home. Colley testified the children “would get really excited about those surprises but she wouldn't let them know what they were and said that they had to come home to get them first.” Respondent also told the children not to celebrate their birthdays without her. When Colley suggested to respondent that she have a party for the children during a visit, respondent refused.
    Colley testified respondent's visits were suspended on the recommendation of Dr. Perez. Dr. Perez had performed theComprehensive Forensic Evaluation (CFEP) on the children and, at one point, needed background information from respondent in order to complete the evaluation. It was several months before Dr. Perez obtained the necessary information from respondent.
    According to Colley, respondent did not accept responsibility for the children coming into foster care, and denied that M.M. had physically abused the children. Colley acknowledged respondent had completed items on the case plan including the substance abuse evaluation, the PEERS parenting class, and had obtained a mental health evaluation.
    Tyrone Maxwell testified. He was employed by DSS and was the instructor for PEERS and the Assertive Discipline classes, both of which respondent and M.M. completed. He noted that, while respondent had not paid attention well during the PEERS class, she actively participated in the “Assertive Discipline” class and had demonstrated improvement.
    Mary Goden testified. She was the therapist at Carolina Psychological Health Services who was treating the children at the time of the termination hearing. Goden had been treating C.P.D. since April 2001, and K.C.D. and T.M.D. since August 2001. Goden was seeing C.P.D. on a weekly basis, K.C.D. on a monthly basis, and T.M.D. on an “as needed” basis. She stated that C.P.D. had been hospitalized twice due to severe emotional and behavioral problems. C.P.D. had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. Goden describedK.M.D. as presenting with symptoms typical for a child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. T.M.D. had been diagnosed with ADHD. Both girls had been progressing well in therapy. C.P.D.'s progress had been less consistent. Goden testified C.P.D.'s recurrent symptoms were triggered by external events. He had been experiencing increasing difficulty as the time of the termination hearing approached. According to Goden, family therapy had not been clinically indicated because of the ongoing severity of the children's symptoms. Goden stated that all three of the children had mentioned being fearful of M.M. due to the physical abuse.
    David Evans from Onslow County Behavioral Healthcare testified. He is a substance abuse counselor and the Violence Anger Management therapist. He led the violence anger management group respondent attended. He testified respondent began the group four to five months prior to the termination of parental rights hearing, in March or April of 2003. According to Evans, respondent had attended nine of the twelve group sessions and was in the process of successfully completing the class. Evans reported M.M. had already completed the twelve week violence anger management group.
    Respondent testified. She currently lives in a one bedroom apartment with her husband, M.M. Their last incident of domestic violence occurred two years ago. It is her intention to continue living with M.M. She is employed on the weekends, during the day and evening hours, at React Bingo. Respondent testified she had completed a substance abuse evaluation, a PEERS parenting educationclass, and a parenting course entitled “Raising Children in a Nonviolent Home.” She had attempted to comply with her case plan requirement of obtaining a psychological evaluation. Respondent had been evaluated by two different mental health professionals, but neither evaluation met DSS requirements for a complete psychological evaluation. Respondent's visits were ceased in July 2001. It was respondent's understanding the visits were to be suspended temporarily until the CFEP was completed. But even after the CFEP was completed, her visits never resumed. Respondent testified she had made attempts to resume visiting with the children. Respondent testified, “I called [the worker] . . . several times and she kept informing me that the psychologist suggested 'Not at that time.'” Respondent stated she and her husband no longer have violent arguments. Their last serious argument was “a month or two ago.” As a result of that argument, M.M. left the home for two hours. Respondent testified that when she and M.M. have arguments, typically one of them will leave the apartment “[f]or as long as it takes to cool down.”
    During her testimony, in response to questions regarding the removal of the children from the home, respondent acknowledged that, just prior to the children's removal, they had been living with her and there had been domestic violence in the home between herself and M.M. But respondent stated, “I didn't know they were removed because of domestic violence, I was told that they were removed from my ex-husband's home due to the fact that he called and said he couldn't care for them any more.” Respondent explainedthat the children were taken away from her because M.M. has “an anger problem and for the fact that I sent them to their dad, I mean, they weren't taken out of my care, they were taken out of their father's care.” According to respondent, M.M. did have a problem with his anger, but that he was in the process of addressing it. Respondent stated that, if her children were returned to her, and M.M. was ordered not to be around them, she would “do what [she has] to, to set goals for their day care.”
    Dr. Colligan, a psychiatrist, testified in respondent's case in chief. In addition, his report was admitted. In this report, Dr. Colligan recommended that the children be placed back in respondent's custody. Dr. Colligan performed a psychiatric evaluation on respondent, interviewing her on 17 October 2002, 28 October 2002, and 4 March 2003. He conducted no additional psychological testing on her. Dr. Colligan was not privy to any information regarding respondent from DSS or court documents. Dr. Colligan stated that respondent informed him during the course of his interviews that C.P.D., K.C.D., and T.M.D. were not with her because they had been sent to their father in Jacksonville due to her husband's anger management issues. Dr. Colligan further testified that he was not aware of the trial court's previous adjudications regarding the children, or the fact they were in foster care.
    The trial court found that grounds existed to terminate respondent's parental rights in that she had neglected the children, N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), and had failed to makereasonable progress in correcting the conditions which led to the removal of the children from the home, N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2). Upon concluding it was in the children's best interests that respondent's parental rights be terminated, the court did so in an order entered 19 September 2003. Respondent appeals.
            ___________________________________
    On appeal respondent argues the trial court erred in finding that grounds existed to terminate her parental rights based on neglect, pursuant to G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1), because there was insufficient evidence to support the necessary findings of fact. For the reasons that follow, we disagree.
    Preliminarily, we note respondent assigns error to numerous findings of fact, but argues only several of the challenged findings in her brief. Assignments of error not argued in respondent's brief are deemed abandoned. See N.C.R. App. P. 28(b)(6). Therefore, the findings of fact not assigned as error and argued in her brief are deemed conclusive on appeal. See In re Humphrey, 156 N.C. App. 533, 540, 577 S.E.2d 421, 426 (2003).
    N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1) (2003), provides one's parental rights may be terminated where:
    (1)    The parent has abused or neglected the juvenile. The juvenile shall be deemed to be . . . neglected if the court finds the juvenile to be . . . a neglected juvenile within the meaning of G.S. 7B-101.

    N.C.G.S. § 7B-101(15) (2003), in turn, defines a “neglected juvenile”:    (15)    Neglected juvenile.-- A juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's parent . . . or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile's welfare . . . . In determining whether a juvenile is a neglected juvenile, it is relevant whether that juvenile . . . lives in a home where another juvenile . . . has been subjected to abuse or neglect by an adult who regularly lives in the home.

    In a termination of parental rights proceeding, the trial court's findings of fact must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(b) (2003). “The petitioner seeking termination bears the burden of showing . . . that . . . neglect exists at the time of the termination proceeding.” In re Ballard, 311 N.C. 708, 716, 319 S.E.2d 227, 232 (1984) (citations omitted). In making its determination as to the parent's fitness, “the trial court must admit and consider all evidence of relevant circumstances or events which existed or occurred either before or after the prior adjudication of neglect.” Id. at 716, 319 S.E.2d at 232-33. When the children have been placed outside of the home for a significant period of time, “the 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.
    In the instant case, the trial court made the following findings of fact:

    8.    Subsequent to the adjudication, the Respondent . . . was granted supervised visitation with the juveniles. During these visits, [respondent] did not make many efforts to interact with the children or engage them in activities. Dr. Perez, the children's therapist, at the time recommended thatvisitation between [respondent] and the juveniles be suspended. It was also reported to the court of [respondent's] negative behavior during the visits which upset the juveniles. The Court at that time, suspended the visitation . . . .

        . . . .

    12.    [Therapist] Mary Godin [sic] never found it to be in the children's best interest that the parents be involved in the juvenile[s'] therapy. The juveniles suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse and neglect that occurred while in the care of [respondent]. The juveniles have not seen nor had contact with [respondent] since July 6, 2001 by order of the Courts based on the recommendations of the therapists, Dr. Perez and Mary Godin [sic].

    13.    There are still significant concerns regarding the mental health of the juveniles due to the abuse and the chronic neglect that they endured while in the care of [respondent].

    14.    [Respondent] has three younger children who are not in her custody. [Respondent] is allowed liberal visitation with these children but only visits the children when [M.M.] is not at home since he is not allowed visitation with these children.

         . . . .

    21.    [Respondent] does not accept any responsibility for the juveniles' placement in foster care. [Respondent] does not believe the statements of the juveniles regarding the abuse and neglect that they have suffered, instead she believes [M.M.]

    22.    Domestic violence was one of the bases for the Department of Social Services becoming involved with this family. [Respondent] and [M.M.] continue to have heated arguments between themselves because within their home to the point where they have to separate for sometimes hours at a time. [Respondent] does not believe that this is a problem.

        . . . .
    24.    [Respondent] lacks any understanding of the seriousness of the juveniles' mental condition.

    25.    The juveniles continue to be afraid of [M.M.]. The juveniles continue to have adverse reactions when [respondent] and [M.M.'s] names are mentioned in therapy. The Juvenile, [C.P.D.] does not want to go back home or ever [see respondent] or [M.M.] again.

         . . . .

    27.    [Respondent] continues to live with [M.M.] and it appears to the Court that she will continue to live with him.

         . . . .

    29.    There is no evidence that [M.M.] will not repeat the abuse and neglect of the juveniles.

        . . . .

    31.    That it is clear to this Court that [respondent] has made some effort to be reunited with the juveniles. However, there is no evidence at all that with all her efforts [respondent] is now or will ever be able to provide for the juveniles in a way that would allow the juveniles to grow up healthy, happy and well developed; nor is there any evidence that would give this court the changes necessary to allow the juveniles to be placed back with [respondent] safely. This Court finds a probability of repetition of neglect if the juveniles are returned to [respondent].

    Respondent argues that findings of fact numbers 8 and 12 are unsupported by sufficient evidence. We disagree.
    With respect to finding number 8, respondent contends that there is not evidence to support the portion of this finding that references respondent's “negative behavior.” To the contrary, evidence was presented that, during visits, respondent told the children there were “surprises” waiting for them at home which theycould only receive once they returned home. This information agitated and excited the children. According to DSS worker Colley's testimony, respondent also told the children they were not to celebrate their birthdays without her. We conclude that finding number 8 is sufficiently supported by record evidence.
    With respect to finding number 12, respondent argues that there is not evidence to support the portion of this finding that “Mary [Goden] never found it to be in the children's best interest that the parents be involved in the juvenile[s'] therapy.” On the contrary, Goden's testimony established that she never found family therapy between the children and respondent to be in their best interests. Goden testified, “At my discretion and the children's symptomatology in my opinion was still too high and we had not dealt with those core issues. I think those core issues always have to be dealt with before you deal with bringing the family issues in.” We conclude that finding number 12 is sufficiently supported by record evidence.
    The assignments of error to findings of fact 8 and 12 as unsupported by sufficient evidence are overruled.
    Next, we reject as unmeritorious respondent's contention that the trial court's findings of fact do not support its conclusion of law that grounds exist to support termination of respondent's parental rights pursuant to G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1). This assignment of error is overruled.
    Finally, because we find grounds for termination were properly established pursuant to G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), we need not addressrespondent's further argument regarding termination pursuant to G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2). See In re Stewart Children, 82 N.C. App. 651, 655, 347 S.E.2d 495, 498 (1986) (once one statutory ground for termination is established, this Court need not address assignments of error challenging other grounds.). This assignment of error is overruled.
    Affirmed.
    Chief Judge MARTIN and Judge TYSON concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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