IN MATTER OF:
WGR, EMK, and MAK Wake County
Minor Children No. 05 J 200
Wake County Attorney's Office, by Deputy Wake County Attorney
Corinne G. Russell, for petitioner-appellee.
Richard Croutharmel, for Wake County Guardian Ad Litem Program, appellee.
The Turrentine Group, PLLC, by Karlene Scott-Turrentine, for respondent-appellant.
On 24 March 2005 Wake County Human Services filed a petition
to terminate the parental rights of respondent, mother of the three
children: W.G.R., E.M.K. and M.A.K., on the following grounds: (1)
respondent neglected the children and it is probable that the
neglect will be repeated if the children are returned to
respondent's care; (2) respondent willfully abandoned the children
for at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the
petition; (3) respondent willfully left the children in foster care
or placement outside of the home for more than twelve months
without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable
progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting theconditions which led to the removal of the children; and (4)
respondent willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost
of care of the children for a continuous period of six months
preceding the filing of the petition. Following a hearing on 25
May 2005, at which respondent appeared and testified, the court
entered an order terminating respondent's parental rights on the
first three grounds. From this order respondent appeals.
By her sole assignment of error, respondent contends [t]he trial court abused its discretion and committed reversible error by terminating respondent's parental rights when by DSS' own evidence, respondent was making extraordinary progress before going to jail, and was continuing her progress with reasonable plans and goals to be able to again parent her children once she got out of jail. Respondent has not assigned error to any of the court's findings of fact or conclusions of law. Findings of fact to which no assignment of error is taken are presumed to be correct and are binding. Creech v. Ranmar Props., 146 N.C. App. 97, 100, 551 S.E.2d 224, 227 (2001), cert. denied, 356 N.C. 160, 568 S.E.2d 191 (2002). Consequently, our review is limited to the determination of whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law and judgment. Okwara v. Dillard Dep't Stores, Inc., 136 N.C. App. 587, 591-92, 525 S.E.2d 481, 484 (2000).
The court's findings of fact show that the three children came into the custody of Wake County Human Services on 20 February 2004. The mother and children first came under the care of Wake County Human Services in September 2003 when a report of physical abuse oftwo of the children by the mother was substantiated. Respondent worked with Wake Human Services in attempting to follow a case plan directed toward treatment of her alcoholism. However, conditions deteriorated resulting in the removal of the children from the home on 20 February 2004. The circumstances causing the removal of the children included: poor school attendance by the children; perpetration of domestic violence upon the mother by her male companions; leaving the children alone without adequate supervision; leaving the children overnight with a seventeen-year- old; respondent being found unconscious in the home after consuming an unidentified substance; and respondent being convicted of child abuse related to an incident of physical disciplining of the children.
On 31 March 2004, the children were adjudicated neglected. Respondent was notified by the court of steps she must take and complete before the court would consider restoring custody to the mother. Respondent failed to comply. She attended only the first seven-day hearing and none thereafter. Respondent continued to drink and at some point, started to use crack cocaine. On 1 February 2005, she began serving a two-year active sentence for driving while impaired. Respondent failed to sign a visitation plan after the children were removed; and she had no visitations with the children after 20 February 2004.
The court's findings further show that since respondent has been incarcerated, she has taken advantage of programs offered to her, such as treatment for substance abuse and mental healthissues. She has worked on obtaining a GED and participated in employment preparation programs.
The court further found that although respondent states when she is released from prison in November 2005, she intends to continue to follow through with rehabilitative efforts, she has in the past failed to remain committed to recovery and sobriety. Additionally, the court found [t]hat the circumstances of the mother are such that the parent did not make reasonable progress toward correcting the conditions which led to the removal of the children prior to the filing of the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights.
The court's findings further relate how the children's school attendance and academic performance, behavior, and mental health have improved since they were removed from the mother's custody.
Based upon these findings, the court concluded that respondent neglected the children, abandoned them, and left them in foster care without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress had been made in correcting the conditions which led to the removal of the children from the home.
We now examine whether the court's findings of fact support its conclusions of law. The first stated ground for termination of respondent's parental rights, that respondent abused or neglected the juveniles, is a ground established by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B- 1111(a)(1) (2005). A neglected juvenile is one who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker; or who has beenabandoned; or who is not provided necessary medical care; or who is not provided necessary remedial care; or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile's welfare; or who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15)(2005). When the juvenile is removed from the custody of a parent based upon a finding of neglect, the court may not terminate the parent's parental rights on this ground without considering evidence of changed conditions in light of the evidence of prior neglect and the probability of repetition of the neglect. In re Ballard, 311 N.C. 708, 715, 319 S.E.2d 227, 232 (1984).
The findings of the court show that respondent neglected the juveniles by not providing them with proper care, supervision or discipline and by subjecting them to an unsafe environment marked by domestic violence. The findings further show that the neglect is likely to be repeated following respondent's release from incarceration. Respondent effectively abandoned the children by not making any arrangements for visiting the children and by not visiting them after 20 February 2004. [I]f a parent withholds his presence, his love, his care, the opportunity to display filial affection, and wilfully neglects to lend support and maintenance, such parent relinquishes all parental claims and abandons the child. Pratt v. Bishop, 257 N.C. 486, 501, 126 S.E.2d 597, 608 (1962). Respondent's alcoholism and incarceration do not preclude a conclusion that she willfully abandoned the children. See In re McLemore, 139 N.C. App. 426, 430-31, 533 S.E.2d 508, 510-11 (2000). We hold the court's conclusion of law terminating respondent'sparental rights on the ground respondent neglected the juveniles is supported by the findings of fact. As only one ground is needed to support termination of parental rights, it is not necessary for us to consider the other grounds. In re Stewart Children, 82 N.C. App. 651, 655, 347 S.E.2d 495, 498 (1986).
We hold the court did not err or abuse its discretion by terminating respondent's parental rights.
Judges McCULLOUGH and HUDSON concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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