An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. 05-357


Filed: 7 February 2006

                                     Robeson County
                                    No. 04 J 06

    Appeal by respondent father from order entered 21 July 2004 by Judge W. Jeffrey Moore in Robeson County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 January 2006.

    Lisa Skinner Lefler for respondent-appellant.

    No brief filed for petitioner-appellee.

    MARTIN, Chief Judge.

    Respondent appeals the termination of his parental rights to D.L.C. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
    On 15 August 2002 Robeson County Department of Social Services (DSS) received a neglect referral regarding the juvenile, D.L.C., who was then less than three years of age. D.L.C. had resided at the Howell Center since September 2000, and his care included use of a tracheotomy, ventilator and feeding tube. By the time of his scheduled release he was able to breathe on his own, and was “on target cognitively, but [would] need speech therapy.” Due to his progress, he no longer met the criteria for care by the Howell Center. Prior to his release, his caretaker and a “back-up partner” needed to complete training. The Howell Center Socialworker reported that she had sent respondent a letter regarding D.L.C.'s release but had not received a response.
    On 19 September 2002, DSS social worker Juaconda McMillian sent respondent a certified letter and spoke with respondent by phone on 26 September 2002. Respondent requested that D.L.C. be placed with him, explaining that he had not completed the Howell Center training due to lack of transportation, and he had completed other training at UNC Hospital. At the 23 October 2002 hearing, the trial court noted:
        the parents admitted the fact[s] set forth in the Court report of social worker Juaconda McMillian. The parents further admitted, stipulated and agreed that it is in the best interest of the named juvenile that their [sic] custody remain with the Robeson County Department of Social Services and that the Robeson County Department of Social Services should have authority to make any lawful placement. The Court therefore finds as facts those statements set forth in the aforesaid court reports and further finds and concludes that it is possible for the juvenile to be returned home immediately or within the next six months; that there are no relatives or other suitable persons to accept legal guardianship of the named juveniles [sic]; that adoption should not be pursued at this time; and that termination of parental rights should not be pursued.

    The trial court further found that “there are concerns about reunification with [respondent] due to his history of drug activity; Child Protective Services history with him regarding his other children; and his ability to provide care for the child” and that he had not visited D.L.C. since 20 November 2001 and failed to “maintain regular contact with the staff at the Howell Center.” The trial court adjudicated D.L.C. neglected due to the inabilityof his parents to provide proper care. The trial court also made several findings incorporating hearing reports, letters and the visitors log by reference, although these exhibits are not part of the record on appeal.
    After the 18 December 2002 review hearing, the trial court made no specific findings regarding respondent but recited, in its order continuing the juvenile's custody in DSS, the same admissions and stipulations that had been contained in the previous order. At review hearings held 26 March 2003, 23 April 2003, and 28 May 2003, the trial court entered orders which likewise made no specific findings regarding respondent, nor did those orders include the admissions or stipulations that had been contained in the 28 October and 18 December orders. Instead, the trial court made findings incorporating by reference the contents of four exhibits, referred to as exhibits A through D, consisting of reports by the social worker, family assessments and a letter from the Howell Center. None of these exhibits are contained in the record on appeal. Each of the orders awarded custody of the juvenile to DSS.
    DSS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on 9 January 2004, alleging that for a period of twelve months next preceding the petition, respondent father had not cooperated with DSS for D.L.C.'s return to his home, had wilfully left D.L.C. in foster care for at least twelve months, had failed to pay child support, and was incapable of providing for the proper care and supervision of D.L.C. At the 21 July 2004 hearing on the petition to terminate parental rights, DSS offered evidence tending to showthat respondent had admitted that he was the father of the juvenile, that he did not pay support, did not maintain monthly contact with the child, missed “case review after case review,” and did not go through the medical training necessary to look after the juvenile. The DSS caseworker testified that all of the information was documented in the court's file, after which DSS moved that the trial court take judicial notice of its findings at the previous hearings in the matter. The trial court granted the motion. Respondent offered no evidence.
    The trial court entered an order terminating the parental rights of respondent, in which it found facts and concluded that grounds existed to terminate respondent's parental rights in that “the minor child has been in the custody of the Robeson County Department of Social Services for a period of twelve months preceding the filing of this petition” and respondent:
        (1) willfully left the juvenile in custody of the Department in foster care for this period without making reasonable if any efforts to get the child back;

        (2) paid no child support towards the care of the juvenile even though able to pay;

        (3) failed to cooperate with the Department for the return of the juvenile;

        (4) has not visited the juvenile on a regular basis.

The trial court further concluded that it was in the best interests of the juvenile to terminate respondent's parental rights.

    On appeal, respondent argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact and that the trial court erred in its conclusion of law that termination was in D.L.C.'s best interest.
    The standard of appellate review in termination of parental rights cases is whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 291, 536 S.E.2d 838, 840 (2000), disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9 (2001). Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111, a finding of any one of the enumerated grounds for termination of parental rights is sufficient to support a termination. In re Humphrey, 156 N.C. App. 533, 540, 577 S.E.2d 421, 426 (2003). One of the grounds for termination is “[t]he 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 those conditions which led to the removal of the juvenile.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B- 1111(a)(2) (2005).
    Our Rules of Appellate Procedure require the appellant to include “so much of the evidence . . . as is necessary for an understanding of all errors assigned,” N.C.R. App. P. 9(a)(1)(e). “It is the duty of the appellant to ensure that the record is complete,” and where the record is incomplete, we need not speculate as to error by the trial court. Hicks v. Alford, 156N.C. App. 384, 389-90, 576 S.E.2d 410, 414 (2003). The burden was on respondent to compile a record that would allow us to review the trial court's findings and illuminate us as to any errors made by the trial court. In the absence of such a record, we must presume the trial court's findings were supported by the evidence, Potts v. Potts, 19 N.C. App. 193, 194, 198 S.E.2d 203, 204 (1973), and we defer to the trial court's conclusions if there are facts to support them. Humphrey, 156 N.C. App. at 540, 577 S.E.2d at 426.
    In this case, the trial court's findings were based upon the testimony of the social worker and the reports which had been incorporated by reference into its previous orders. None of those reports have been included in the record on appeal and, in their absence, we must presume they fully support trial court's findings that respondent had wilfully left the child in foster care for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress in correcting the conditions which led to the child being placed in DSS custody. Moreover, the testimony of the social worker substantiates that D.L.C. was in DSS custody from 4 October 2002 and that respondent had no contact with the social worker after 23 October 2003. Based on this finding, the trial court did not err in concluding that grounds for termination existed and that termination would be in D.L.C.'s best interest. Accordingly, we defer to the trial court's conclusions and affirm its order.
    Judges McGEE and STEELMAN concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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