An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA05-152

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 1 November 2005

IN THE MATTER OF:                Lenoir County
M.C.                            04 J 36

    Appeal by respondent from orders entered 14 July 2004 by Judge Rose Williams in Lenoir County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 22 September 2005.

    GRIFFIN & GRIFFIN, by Robert W. Griffin, for petitioner- appellee Lenoir County Department of Social Services.

    THE TURRENTINE GROUP, PLLC, by Karlene Scott-Turrentine, for
    respondent-appellant.

    SMITH, Judge.

    Respondent-mother (“respondent”) appeals the trial court orders adjudicating her thirteen-year-old child, M.C.,   (See footnote 1)  neglected and requiring inter alia that respondent resume counseling, complete anger management and parenting classes, and allow Lenoir County Department of Social Services (“petitioner”) to remain in the case. For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm the trial court's orders.
    The facts and procedural history pertinent to the instant appeal are as follows: On 13 November 2003, petitioner received a report indicating that respondent and Mark had been involved in a physical fight, during which respondent chased Mark with a knifeand hit him in the head with a shoe. Amber Tuck (“Tuck”) of Eastpointe Human Services referred respondent and Mark to David Hough (“Hough”) for counseling. Although respondent and Mark initially attended “a few” counseling sessions, they soon stopped attending. In February 2004, petitioner attempted to establish a case management plan for respondent and Mark which included continued joint counseling as well as anger management and parenting classes for respondent. However, respondent refused to see or take telephone calls from the social worker and refused to sign a release allowing Hough to detail the progress of the prior counseling sessions.
    On 29 March 2004, petitioner filed a juvenile petition in the instant case, alleging that Mark was neglected in that he “does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from [respondent]” and “lives in an environment injurious to [his] welfare.” (emphasis in original). In support of the allegation, petitioner stated that it “ha[d] been attempting to provide Case Management Services to this family since January 1, 2004[,]” that respondent and Mark “admitted to getting into a physical fight at which time [respondent] chased after [Mark] with a knife[,]” and that although Mark was not harmed, respondent “was successful in throwing a shoe and striking [him] in the head.” Prior to a hearing on the matter, the parties entered into a consent agreement regarding the case. In a Consent Juvenile Adjudication Order entered 14 July 2004, the trial court provided in pertinent part as follows:

        After being advised by all parties that they consented to the entry of an adjudicationorder based on the following facts, the court made the following FINDINGS OF FACT by clear and convincing evidence:

        1. [Respondent] admitted that the factual allegations in the petition are true, except that . . . while admitting pulling a knife, [she] denied chasing [Mark] with the knife. [Petitioner] accepted the other allegations as sufficient to constitute neglect without tendering proof of that particular allegation.

        2. [Respondent] admitted that [Mark] was neglected by not receiving proper care, supervision, or discipline and by living in an environment injurious to his welfare, because of the conditions in the home described in the petition.

        3. The conditions described in the petition were that in November 2003 [respondent] and [Mark] admitted getting into a physical fight with each other. [Respondent] pulled a knife on [Mark]. She threw a shoe at him and hit him in the head.

        4. [Petitioner] has attempted to provide Case Management Services to the family since January 2004, but [respondent] has refused services.

(emphasis in original).
    Based upon its findings of fact, the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Mark was neglected within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15). The trial court thereafter entered a disposition order containing the following pertinent findings of fact:

        1. The court made inquiry of all parties as to their recommendations for disposition.

        2. The court received reports from Michelle Hayes, DSS; and Cynthia Coley, Guardian ad Litem Program Supervisor. (The reports are hereby incorporated as findings of fact in this order by reference the same as if fully set out herein.)
        . . . .

        5. [Hough] did not recommend stopping the counseling sessions. In response to [respondent's] inquiry he said that the counseling sessions could be stopped soon, but [respondent] stopped attending on her own decision and never went back.

        . . . .

        9. In the opinion of the social worker the family needed additional services. [Mark] did not understand why his mother stopped the counseling. He believed that it might do some good.

        10. [Petitioner] was concerned about the danger of the level of violence between [respondent] and [Mark], and remains concerned for the safety of [Mark].

        11. [Respondent] testified today that she believes that her response in pulling out a knife was an appropriate response for the discipline of her thirteen-year-old son.

        12. [Respondent], through counsel, stated that she was the one who initiated the call to [Tuck] at Eastpointe and went to counseling with her son with [Hough]. She stopped the counseling because of the demands of other activities going on in her life at that time.

        13. [Respondent] contends that she was entitled to make the decision to stop counseling without the interference of [petitioner] in her life. . . .

        14. [Respondent] does not object to a court requirement that there be no physical discipline, such as choking, pushing, shoving, and punching, or using objects such as knives or shoes. She also does not object to the social worker and guardian ad litem continuing to talk to [Mark] to verify that everything is still going well in the home.

        15. [Respondent] does strongly object to the court requiring counseling for [her and Mark], which she contends became repetitive in the sessions.
        16. The court agrees with [petitioner] and the guardian ad litem that additional services for this family, in particular counseling for [respondent] and [Mark], are necessary for the safety of [Mark].

Based upon these findings of fact, the trial court concluded as a matter of law that it was in Mark's best interests for custody to remain with respondent, but it ordered that respondent (i) resume joint counseling, (ii) attend and complete anger management and parenting classes, (iii) refrain from physical discipline of Mark, (iv) allow petitioner and the guardian ad litem to visit her residence and discuss the case with her, and (v) provide reports regarding who she is receiving therapy from and why she misses any classes. Respondent appeals.

__________________________________
    The issues on appeal are whether the trial court erred by: (I) concluding that Mark is a neglected child; and (II) ordering respondent receive counseling, take anger management and parenting classes, and allow petitioner to visit her residence and remain involved in the case.
    Respondent first argues that the trial court erred by concluding that Mark is a neglected child. Respondent asserts that the trial court was prohibited from accepting the consent agreement and finding neglect based upon only one incident of inappropriate behavior. We disagree.
    N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-902 (2003) allows a trial court to enter a consent order on a petition alleging neglect where all parties are present, represented by counsel, and the trial court makessufficient findings of fact to support the order. In the case at bar, the record reflects that prior to initiation of the hearing, the parties informed the court that they had consented to adjudication of the matter. The trial court noted that all parties were present and represented by counsel, and, as detailed above, it made specific findings of fact regarding respondent's admissions of neglect. There is no indication in the record that respondent ever objected to the entry of the consent order. Nevertheless, on appeal, respondent argues that the trial court committed “plain error” and abused its discretion by entering the consent order. We note that the plain error rule has not been expanded to civil cases in general nor to child custody cases in particular. See In re Gleisner, 141 N.C. App. 475, 479, 539 S.E.2d 362, 365 (2000); Raynor v. Odom, 124 N.C. App. 724, 732, 478 S.E.2d 655, 660 (1996). Furthermore, we are not persuaded that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order containing findings of fact and conclusions of law based on an agreement entered into by all parties, including respondent. Accordingly, we overrule respondent's first argument.
    Respondent's second argument is that the trial court erred by ordering her to resume joint counseling, enroll and complete anger management and parenting classes, and allow petitioner to visit her residence and remain involved in the case. Respondent asserts that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order containing “punitive actions against her when she did nothing but attempt to get help from the State in dealing with her child.” Wedisagree with respondent's assertion that petitioner's actions were punitive. They are more correctly described as and intended to be remedial.
    Once a child is adjudicated neglected, the trial court proceeds to the disposition stage, where it considers the best interests of the child. See In re Pittman, 149 N.C. App. 756, 766, 561 S.E.2d 560, 567, disc. review denied, 356 N.C. 163, 568 S.E.2d 608 (2002), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 932, 155 L. Ed. 2d 673 (2003). We review a trial court's determination at the disposition stage for abuse of discretion, reversing the disposition only where the trial court's decision was manifestly unsupported by reason or so arbitrary it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision. See id.
    N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-900 (2003) provides as follows:
        The purpose of dispositions in juvenile actions is to design an appropriate plan to meet the needs of the juvenile and to achieve the objectives of the State in exercising jurisdiction. If possible, the initial approach should involve working with the juvenile and the juvenile's family in their own home so that the appropriate community resources may be involved in care, supervision, and treatment according to the needs of the juvenile. Thus, the court should arrange for appropriate community-level services to be provided to the juvenile and the juvenile's family in order to strengthen the home situation.

    In the instant case, following “an inquiry of all parties as to their recommendations for disposition[,]” the trial court agreed with petitioner and the guardian ad litem that “additional services for this family, in particular counseling for [respondent] and[Mark], are necessary for the safety of [Mark].” In light of this finding, the trial court ordered that respondent resume counseling with Mark, attend and complete anger management and parenting classes, refrain from using physical means to discipline Mark, and allow petitioner to visit her home and discuss the case with her. Respondent contends that this disposition was an abuse of the trial court's discretion, in that it “essentially punished [her] for coming forward and asking for help with her child” and failed to consider that “she got the help she needed, completely corrected the problem, and no longer needed or desired the State's assistance.” However, we note that in findings of fact twelve through fourteen, the trial court considered respondent and Mark's prior attempts to receive help and correct their problems, as well as respondent's unilateral cessation of the counseling sessions initially begun by the family. The trial court determined that the limited services obtained by respondent and Mark were insufficient, recognizing that their counselor “did not recommend stopping the counseling sessions[,]” that Mark “did not understand why his mother stopped the counseling[,]” and that both petitioner and the guardian ad litem believed continued counseling as well as anger management and parenting classes were essential to the family's success. We do not believe the trial court erred by refusing to adopt respondent's subjective rationale and beliefs regarding the case over the rationale and beliefs of the guardian ad litem and petitioner. Furthermore, although we recognize that respondent initiated contact with social services and attempted on her own tocorrect those issues which led to the adjudication, we also recognize that petitioner's involvement in the case occurred only after respondent failed in her efforts to solve her family's problems and began to refuse the recommendations of her counselor and social worker. In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by entering the disposition order in the instant case. Accordingly, we overrule respondent's second argument.
    In light of the foregoing, we affirm the trial court orders adjudicating Mark neglected and entering the disposition in this matter.
    Affirmed.
    Judges HUDSON and ELMORE concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).


Footnote: 1
     For the purposes of this opinion, we will refer to the minor child by the pseudonym “Mark.”

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