IN THE MATTER OF:
E.F.C.K. and C.F.W.,
Minor Children Forsyth County
Nos. 03 J 271-272
Assistant County Attorney Theresa A. Boucher, for petitioner-
appellee Forsyth County Department of Social Services.
Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, PLLC by Alison R. Bost, for the Guardian Ad Litem for the minor children, E.F.C.K. and C.F.W.
Don Willey for respondent-appellant Shanequa Scott aka Naheen King.
Respondent is the mother of the minor children E.F.C.K. (born
9-14-01) and C.F.W. (born 12-18-02). On 18 August 2003, Forsyth
County Department of Social Services filed a petition to terminate
respondent mother's parental rights, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§
7B-1111(a)(2) and (a)(9), which provide for termination of parental
rights if: (2) The parent has willfully left the juvenile in
foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months
without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable
progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting thoseconditions which led to the removal of the juvenile. And: (9)
The parental rights of the parent with respect to another child of
the parent have been terminated involuntarily by a court of
competent jurisdiction and the parent lacks the ability or
willingness to establish a safe home.
This matter was heard on 1 December 2003. The evidence tends to show the following: Department of Social Services first became acquainted with respondent in August 2000, when her infant daughter I.K. was removed from her custody due to allegations of neglect and dependency. I.K. was adjudicated to be a neglected and dependent juvenile, and thereafter Department of Social Services began to work intensively with respondent to reunite the child with her. The minor child E.F.C.K. came into the care and custody of Department of Social Services just one day after his birth because respondent tested positive for marijuana at the time of the minor child's birth. C.F.W., who was born premature, with special needs requiring hospitalization for some three weeks after birth, was also removed from respondent mother's custody soon after her birth. When respondent failed to complete the requirements for reunification with I.K., she was placed in the custody of her father. Additionally, despite Department of Social Services's efforts, respondent failed to submit to the necessary evaluations and treatments to be reunited with E.F.C.K. and C.F.W.
E.F.C.K. and C.F.W. have been continually in foster care since birth. The two minor children have been living in the same foster home, and have close relationships with each other and their fosterfamily. E.F.C.K. is developing normally, but C.F.W. has had some health issues. The foster parents have expressed a desire to adopt both of the minor children. Patricia Lutman, the Department of Social Services social worker assigned to the case, was of the opinion that it was in the best interests of the children that respondent mother's parental rights be terminated. Lutman's opinion was based upon the length of time the children had been in foster care and the attachment between the children and their foster family, which includes the relationship between the minor children and the other children in the foster home.
Respondent has been homeless since 29 July 2003. In the six months prior to the termination hearing, she only had three visits with the two minor children, E.F.C.K. and C.F.W. In fact, despite the opportunity for weekly visits, respondent had not visited the children since August 2003. Though she testified to having had two jobs at fast food restaurants, respondent refused to provide any further information about her employment. Respondent failed to pay any of the court-ordered $50 per month support payments in the six months preceding the termination hearing.
Psychologist Deborea Winfrey, who evaluated respondent in Spring 2003, diagnosed respondent with paranoid schizophrenia, Asperger's Syndrome and reactive attachment disorder. Winfrey recommended a minimum 18-month course of treatment for respondent mother, which would include individual psychotheraphy and anti- psychotic medications. Though she testified to the contrary at the hearing, respondent told Dr. Winfrey that she was completelyopposed to taking anti-psychotic medications. Further, respondent testified during the termination hearing that she would not comply with any recommendations as to counseling. Dr. Winfrey opined that it was unlikely that respondent could create an environment for appropriate child development; and that without treatment for her condition, any children in respondent mother's care would be at risk.
At the close of the evidence, the trial court found that grounds existed to terminate respondent's parental rights to E.F.C.K. pursuant to both N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-1111(a)(2) and (9), and that grounds existed to terminate respondent's parental rights to C.F.W. pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(9). The court further found and concluded that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate those rights. Respondent appeals.
In her first argument, respondent contends that the trial court erred in accepting her stipulation of a factual basis to the allegations contained in the petition without taking evidence at the adjudication hearing in contravention of the mandatory statutory procedure. We disagree.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109 (e) provides: The court shall take evidence, find the facts, and shall adjudicate the existence or nonexistence of any of the circumstances set forth in G.S. 7B-1111 which authorize the termination of parental rights of the respondent. This Court recently reminded, 'Stipulations are judicial admissions and are therefore binding in every sense, preventing the party who agreed to the stipulation from introducingevidence to dispute it and relieving the other party of the necessity of producing evidence to establish an admitted fact.' In re I.S., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 611 S.E.2d 467, ___ (2005)(quoting Thomas v. Poole, 54 N.C. App. 239, 241, 282 S.E.2d 515, 517 (1981)). Judicial notice is another evidentiary tool that may be utilized in presenting adjudicatory facts. See N.C.R. Evid. Rule 201.
In this case, the trial court not only had before it the stipulation of counsel, on behalf of respondent mother, but the record also shows that [the trial court] took judicial notice of the termination of parental rights petition filed by the Forsyth County DSS on August 18, 2003. The court also received into evidence, without objection, the 5 January 2000 order from South Carolina terminating respondent mother's parental rights as to two older children. Based upon that evidence, the trial court found that grounds existed, as alleged in the 18 August 2003 petition, to terminate respondent mother's parental rights. As the court's finding that grounds existed under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2) and (9) to terminate respondent mother's parental rights to E.F.C.K. and C.F.W. was based upon proper evidence taken during the adjudication hearing. This argument is without merit.
In her second argument, respondent contends that the trial court erred in concluding that it would be in the minor children's best interests to terminate her parental rights. We disagree.
Once at least one ground for termination is established, the trial court proceeds to the dispositional stage where the bestinterests of the child are taken into consideration. In re Hardesty, 150 N.C. App. 380, 385, 563 S.E.2d 79, 83 (2002). The trial court's determination that it is in the child's best interests to terminate parental rights is reviewable under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Allred, 122 N.C. App. 561, 569, 471 S.E.2d 84, 88 (1996).
In the case sub judice, after determining that grounds existed to terminate respondent mother's parental rights, the trial court heard the testimony of Patricia Lutman, the social worker assigned to this case, as well as that of Dr. Deborea Winfrey, the psychologist who evaluated respondent mother. Despite respondent mother's protestations of love for her children, the overwhelming evidence of record tended to show that respondent had done little to provide a stable environment for herself or the minor children; that despite the attempts of Department of Social Services, she was unable to create an environment for appropriate child development. In fact, respondent stopped visiting her children once the petition to terminate her parental rights was filed, and even before that time, her visits were sporadic. Lutman noted that the children had been in foster care for the entirety of their lives, that they had bonded with their foster family, and that the foster parents were interested in adopting the two minor children. Dr. Winfrey affirmed that without the recommended treatment for her mental illness, any child in respondent mother's care would be at risk. Finally, the children's guardians ad Litem submitted reports to the court recommending termination of respondent mother's parentalrights. Based upon this evidence, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that it would be in the best interests of the minor children to terminate respondent mother's parental rights. This argument is without merit.
Having so concluded, the order terminating respondent mother's parental rights is affirmed.
Because respondent has not argued her other assignments of error in her brief, they are deemed abandoned. N.C. R. App. P. Rule 28(b)(6)(2005).
Chief Judge Martin and Judge Hunter concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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