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1. Appeal and Error; Termination of Parental Rights_preservation of issues--no argument in brief--failure to provide a safe home_findings supported
Assignments of error concerning findings that a parent lacked the ability or willingness to establish a safe home were deemed abandoned where her brief contained no arguments challenging the findings. Furthermore, the transient state of the mother's housing at all times since the child's birth, along with her untreated hygiene issues, her failure to adequately supervise the child during visitation, and her failure to complete parenting classes all supported the trial court's determination that the mother lacked the ability or willingness to establish a safe home.
2. Termination of Parental Rights_guardian ad litem for parent_not appointed at
initial adjudication hearing
The trial court's failure to appoint a guardian ad litem for respondent mother for an initial adjudication hearing did not undermine the legitimacy of the trial court's findings with respect to the mother's ability or willingness to establish a safe home in a later termination of parental rights order.
3. Termination of Parental Rights_grounds_only one required_no consideration on
appeal for further grounds
The trial court need only find that one statutory ground for termination of parental rights exists in order to proceed to the dispositional phase. Arguments on appeal regarding further grounds were not reached.
4. Termination of Parental Rights_best interest of child_polar star
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in a termination of parental rights case by concluding that termination was in the child's best interests. While there is sympathy for the mother's mental health issues, particularly in light of a nightmarish childhood, the best interest of the child is the polar star.
Cathy L. Moore, Assistant County Attorney, for petitioner-
Richard Croutharmel for respondent-appellant.
Wendy C. Sotolongo for guardian ad litem-appellee.
Respondent mother D.B. appeals from an order terminating her parental rights with respect to her child L.A.B. The bulk of respondent mother's appellate arguments are based on her contention that the trial court erred by failing to appoint a guardian ad litem ("GAL") to represent her at the time of the initial adjudication hearing, and instead appointing one only after the filing of the motion to terminate her parental rights. Respondent mother has not, however, properly preserved the issue for appellate review. In any event, the argument is foreclosed by In re O.C., 171 N.C. App. 457, 615 S.E.2d 391, disc. review denied, 360 N.C. 64, 623 S.E.2d 587 (2005), and reflects a misunderstanding of the role of a GAL appointed for an adult parent.
Further, we hold that the trial court's findings of fact, which have not been materially contested on appeal, are sufficient to support the trial court's termination of parental rights under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B_1111(a)(9) (2005). Because respondent mother has failed to demonstrate any abuse of discretion by the trial court in determining that it was in L.A.B.'s best interest to terminate respondent mother's parental rights, we affirm the trial court's order.
14. With respect to parenting classes,
the mother did complete one parenting program
at the Health Department, but was recommended
for more parenting instruction, which she did
not complete. In addition, the mother
received referrals from Durham DSS to two
other parenting programs, but she completed
15. With respect to stable housing, Durham DSS provided monthly financial assistance, and provided technical assistance on two occasions, to help [respondent mother] find and maintain stable housing. Nonetheless, the mother has lived in nine different locations since the child has been in foster care, including a rooming house, a homeless shelter, a Budget Inn, and the homes of friends.
16. The mother attends visitation with the child. However, she has not progressed beyond supervised visitation because of concerns about her not paying adequate attention to the child. She rarely asks questions about the child or his development.
17. The mother has significant hygiene problems. Community-based services with apara-professional were offered by her case manager at the Durham Center to address this issue, but the mother did not take advantage of these services.
Respondent mother specifically assigned error to each of these findings of fact, but her brief contains no argument challenging any of them. We, therefore, deem these assignments of error to be abandoned. N.C.R. App. P. 28(a) ("Questions raised by assignments of error in appeals from trial tribunals but not then presented and discussed in a party's brief, are deemed abandoned.")
We further hold that these findings of fact are sufficient to support the second element of § 7B-1111(a)(9). The transient state of respondent mother's housing at all times since L.A.B.'s birth, along with her untreated hygiene issues, failure to adequately supervise L.A.B. during visitation, and failure to complete the classes necessary for her to learn how to effectively parent L.A.B., all support the trial court's determination that respondent mother lacks the ability or willingness to establish a safe home in which L.A.B. could spend his childhood. See In re V.L.B., 168 N.C. App. 679, 683, 608 S.E.2d 787, 791 (undisputed finding of previous termination of parental rights with respect to another child, coupled with chronic and severe mental health problems on the part of both parents, supported the trial court's conclusion that grounds to terminate parental rights existed under § 7B- 1111(a)(9)), disc. review denied, 359 N.C. 633, 614 S.E.2d 924 (2005).
 Respondent mother argues, however, that the trial court's decision to terminate her parental rights under § 7B-1111(a)(9) wastainted by the court's failure to appoint her a GAL until after the filing of the motion to terminate her parental rights. She states in her brief:
[T]he trial court's ability to assess Respondent-Mother's ability or willingness to establish a safe home was hindered by its failure to provide Respondent-Mother with a GAL to help her navigate the legal proceedings. Had the trial court helped her, through the appointment of a GAL, to get her mental health problems under control[,] the trial court would have had better evidence to know that Respondent-Mother was aware of what constituted a safe home for the child.
The facts that Respondent-Mother lived in several different places and failed to keep her social workers informed of her whereabouts may simply have been the result of her mental health infirmities. We cannot positively know since she was not appointed a GAL early on in her case and the DSS social workers assigned to her case were not necessarily looking out for her best interests.
We begin our analysis by observing that respondent mother's argument that the trial court erred by failing to appoint her a GAL earlier in the proceedings has not been properly preserved for appeal because the issue was not the subject of any of her assignments of error. See N.C.R. App. P. 10(a) ("[T]he scope of review on appeal is confined to a consideration of those assignments of error set out in the record on appeal . . . ."). We are, therefore, precluded from reviewing this issue. See Viar v. N.C. Dep't of Transp., 359 N.C. 400, 402, 610 S.E.2d 360, 361 (2005) (holding that appeal should be dismissed in part because the arguments in appellant's brief did not match the substance of the assignments of error). Even assuming arguendo that the trial court committed error by its failure to appoint a GAL for respondent mother for the initial adjudication hearing, this Court has recently held that such an error does not "bear a legal relationship with the validity of the later order on termination." O.C., 171 N.C. App. at 462, 615 S.E.2d at 394-95 (overruling parent's assignment of error, in an appeal from an order terminating parental rights, pertaining to the trial court's failure to appoint the parent a GAL at the initial adjudication hearing). Respondent mother urges this panel not to follow the holding of O.C. It is, however, well-established that "[w]here a panel of the Court of Appeals has decided the same issue, albeit in a different case, a subsequent panel of the same court is bound by that precedent, unless it has been overturned by a higher court." In re Appeal from Civil Penalty, 324 N.C. 373, 384, 379 S.E.2d 30, 37 (1989). We are, therefore, bound by our previous opinion in O.C.
We note additionally that respondent mother's argument reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a GAL with respect to an adult parent. Specifically, it appears respondent mother has confused the GAL with the more expansive "guardian of the person." Duties of the latter include making "provision for the ward's care, comfort, and maintenance," as well as for the ward's "training, education, employment, rehabilitation, or habilitation." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 35A_1241(a)(1) (2005). Guardians of the person are also charged with, among other things, arranging the ward's "place of abode." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 35A_1241(a)(2). A court's appointment of a GAL, by contrast, "is for the purpose of protecting and ensuring, at the very least, the procedural due process rights of a parent who may be later adjudicated as 'incapable.'" In re D.S.C., 168 N.C. App. 168, 171, 607 S.E.2d 43, 46 (2005). See also In re Shepard, 162 N.C. App. 215, 227, 591 S.E.2d 1, 9 (2004) (noting that the role of the GAL is as a "guardian of procedural due process for [the] parent, to assist in explaining and executing her rights"). In Shepard, this Court, although acknowledging that there "are no specifics as to the proper conduct of the GAL," id. at 228, 591 S.E.2d at 10, pointed to the GAL's role as a spokesperson for the parent and the GAL's duty to protect the parent's interests in the course of the legal proceedings, including working with the parent to understand the gravity of the proceedings. Id. at 228, 229_30, 591 S.E.2d at 9, 10. See also In re J.A.A., 175 N.C. App. 66, 71, 623 S.E.2d 45, 48 (2005) ("The trial court should always keep in mind that the appointment of a guardian ad litem will divest the parent of their fundamental right to conduct his or her litigation according to their own judgment and inclination.").
We have found no authority, and respondent mother has cited none, suggesting that a GAL serves as a type of social worker for the parent. Thus, even if the trial court had appointed a GAL at the adjudication stage, it would not have been that GAL's duty to assist respondent mother with "get[ting] her mental health problems under control." Accordingly, we cannot conceive of how the trial court's failure to appoint a GAL for respondent mother for theinitial adjudication hearing undermines the legitimacy of the trial court's findings of fact with respect to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B- 1111(a)(9).
 In sum, we hold that the trial court did not err in its conclusion that grounds to terminate respondent mother's parental rights exist under § 7B-1111(a)(9). Further, because the trial court need only find that one statutory ground for termination exists in order to proceed to the dispositional phase and decide if termination is in the child's best interests, Shermer, 156 N.C. App. at 285, 576 S.E.2d at 407, we need not reach respondent mother's arguments regarding N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2). In re B.S.D.S., 163 N.C. App. 540, 546, 594 S.E.2d 89, 93-94 (2004) ("Having concluded that at least one ground for termination of parental rights existed, we need not address the additional ground of neglect found by the trial court.").
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