NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS
Filed: 2 January 2007
8. [Respondent] lacks insight as to his
responsibility as a father because of his
failure to even try to protect the child fromharm while in the care of April Taylor.
9. [Respondent] completed a parental
competency evaluation performed by the UNC
Child Forensic Team located in the Department
of Psychiatry. He impressed the team as
someone who could parent the child. However,
during the course of the evaluation, he was
untruthful to the evaluator about his drug use
by saying that he did not use and had not used
for a long period of time. However, when the
evaluator discovered that he had previously
been admitted to the hospital with a minor
heart attack brought on by cocaine use, he
then called the evaluator and confessed that
he had used drugs.
10. Almost simultaneously with the completion
of the somewhat positive parental evaluation,
[Respondent] abruptly left town. This caused
the evaluator to revise her recommendations
and to comment that [Respondent's] departure
demonstrates his impulsivity and lack of
commitment to the child.
. . . .
13. At a point when [Respondent] seemed to be making progress toward reunification with the child, he impulsively moved to Florida with April Taylor in October, 2004. He did not inform his social worker that he was leaving, nor did he request a visit with the child before leaving. At the time, April Taylor was pregnant and told [Respondent] that he was the father. When the baby was born, [Respondent] then believed that he was not the father, as the baby did not look like him. He has not had a paternity test to determine one way or the other. When Ms. Taylor told him that the baby was not his, he left Florida and returned to North Carolina.
14. While [Respondent] was in Florida, he made
no effort to contact the child.
Notwithstanding the social worker's attempts
to contact [Respondent], he made no effort tocontact his social worker, nor the Guardian ad
Litem. He did not inquire of the child, nor
send him any communication, nor any gifts nor
cards. [Respondent] did not contact his social
worker for four months while in Florida.
15. While [Respondent] was in Florida, he did
not initiate any contact with Florida agencies
to work on getting the child or his case
transferred to Florida. While he wanted the
case transferred to Florida, he did nothing to
get it transferred. He did allow a Florida
social worker into the home, but he did
nothing to seek services which might help him.
He relied on Ms. Taylor to seek the services,
though he was unclear of her efforts.
16. Throughout the time that the child has
been in [DSS] custody, [Respondent] has not
had stable housing. He currently lives with
his friend Roger in a two bedroom trailer in
Hillsborough, North Carolina. He signed a
lease on June 27, 2005 to rent a house from
his grandfather. This lease was signed 12
days after the first day of this hearing and 4
days before the second day of this hearing.
[Respondent] has lived in his grandfather's
rental home in the past and got behind on his
rent by about $850.00 which he has recently
17. [Respondent] has had at least 7 jobs in
the past few years. He has held jobs for
short periods, only months at a time. He has
held his current job since April, 2005 but is
currently looking for another job. He has
applied for a job in Durham.
. . . .
20. [Respondent] produced for the Court a list of daycare centers which he believed could care for the child, if the child were in his custody. He called some of the centers and his mother called others. He did not know whether the centers would be able to take the child, given the child's needs and behaviors.
21. [Respondent] does not have any perception of what the child's needs are nor how to meet them. He does not understand nor comprehend the damage that has been done to the child during the course of his very young life.
22. [Respondent] is impulsive, lacks insight
and demonstrates poor judgment. This is
evidenced by the following: he moved to
Florida thereby abandoning his child and
efforts to be reunified with his child,
without consideration as to how his move would
impact the juvenile and acknowledged that he
would no longer be able to see the child; by
his relationship with April Taylor and his
knowingly leaving the child with her, even
though she would engage in activities and
behaviors which were potentially harmful to
the child; by his abrupt [exit] from the
Courtroom in protest of the Court'[s] ruling
in the middle of a hearing; and by his
providing the parental competency evaluator
with information that was untrue in order to
make himself look more favorable in the eyes
of the evaluator.
. . . .
25. The child needs stability and parents who are mature and able to perceive his needs and who are able to seek the special help the child needs. The child was damaged by his early unstable life with his biological parents and the neglect he suffered at their hands.
Our standard of review for the termination of parental rights
is whether the trial court's findings of fact are based upon clear,
cogent and convincing evidence and whether the findings support the
conclusions of law. In re Baker, 158 N.C. App. 491, 493, 581
S.E.2d 144, 146 (2003).
We note that in a neglect adjudication,the trial court's findings of fact are deemed conclusive
as long as
they are supported by clear, convincing, competent evidence, even
where there is evidence to support contrary findings. See In re
Helms, 127 N.C. App. 505, 491 S.E.2d 672 (1997).
In the case sub judice, Respondent testified that S.E.R., II's mother would leave and take him around the wrong environments and . . . [have] him around the wrong things. In addition, DSS received a report on 19 August 2003 that S.E.R., II's mother neglected to feed and clean the child and would party all night. Also included in the report was an allegation that the mother had S.E.R., II around someone who pulled a gun on [her] in front of the child. Further, there is evidence that the mother had to take out protective orders against individuals, but exposed the child to individuals involved with protective orders and those with a history of dangerous behavior. Despite his knowledge of the lifestyle to which his son was being exposed as a baby, Respondent testified that he believed that a child that young is better with their [sic] mother if at all possible[,] even though he acknowledged that he had concerns about how S.E.R., II's mother was parenting him.
The trial court admitted testimony from Dr. Brantley, which included evidence that Respondent had initially lied to Dr. Brantley about his drug use. It was not until after Dr. Brantleydiscovered the truth that Respondent telephoned her to confess that he had been using cocaine. Further, the uncontroverted evidence established that Respondent left North Carolina in October 2004 to be with S.E.R., II's mother, who had moved to Florida. Prior to leaving, he did not inform his social worker or say goodbye to his child, who was in DSS custody. Testimony from Ms. Weiler, the social worker, and Dr. Brantley was admitted in which they both described the detrimental effect his abrupt departure had on the reunification proceedings. Respondent testified that he moved to Florida suddenly because S.E.R., II's mother claimed she was carrying his child, and he felt at the time that it would be best for [him] to go to Florida and help support her in her pregnancy and to be there for [his] new child[.] Respondent further testified that he did not seek social services for his family while in Florida even though Ms. Weiler had suggested that he do so. Instead, he relied on S.E.R., II 's mother to seek services, although he [could not] really remember what they were. It is undisputed that Respondent did not try to contact S.E.R., II, Ms. Weiler or the guardian ad litem while he was in Florida. It is also undisputed that Respondent failed to send any communication, gifts or cards to S.E.R., II while he was in Florida. Respondent testified that the reason he returned to North Carolina was because he discovered that he was not the father of the second child. At the time S.E.R., II was placed in the custody of DSS, Respondent lived in a house he rented from his grandfather. When Respondent returned to North Carolina from Florida, he lived with his friend, Roger. At the time of the hearing, Respondent had signed a lease to rent a house from his grandfather again, but DSS noted that Respondent forfeited his stable housing when he moved to Florida to reside with friends and acknowledged . . . that he had 'no plan.'
Dr. Brantley testified that Respondent had a series of jobs as a cook and was working with Brown's Lawn Care, worked for the Department of Transportation briefly, worked for the City of Durham briefly. [Respondent] said that his average job length was a year and a half. . . . [I]t was more like three to six months. Respondent testified that between 2004 and 2005, he worked as a mason, buried underground cable in Florida for three months, delivered pizza part-time for one year, sold cars for one week, and worked as a laborer at a landscaping company for one day. At the time of hearing, Respondent was looking for a different job.
Respondent further testified that he called ten child care facilities while investigating child care options, and made a list of six or seven facilities that he could afford and which had space for an additional child. On cross-examination, Respondent conceded that he had not visited any of the facilities, and since he did notdescribe S.E.R., II 's behaviors to any of the day care personnel, he did not know whether any of them would accept S.E.R., II .
Throughout Respondent's testimony, he acknowledged that he did not know what type of behavioral problems S.E.R., II exhibits. Further, Respondent demonstrated that he is impulsive, lacks insight and demonstrates poor judgment. For example, (1) Respondent made the decision to move to Florida with S.E.R., II 's mother even though DSS was working toward reunification with his son; (2) Respondent left North Carolina without saying goodbye to his child and without speaking with his social worker; (3) prior to DSS obtaining custody of S.E.R., II , Respondent left the child with S.E.R., II 's mother, even though Respondent had concerns about her parenting; (4) Respondent admitted lying to Dr. Brantley about his cocaine use; and (5) Respondent abruptly left the courtroom in the middle of the hearing on 15 June 2005 because he took issue with one of the court's rulings.
In addition, Dr. Rintoul evaluated S.E.R., II and found that the child exhibited emotional reactivity, withdrawal, aggression, insomnia, unpredictable fear reactions and dwarfed language use, despite his age, because of his traumatic early childhood experiences. Based on the aforementioned evidence and the totality of the transcript which we have thoroughly and carefully reviewed, we are convinced that there was ample clear, cogent and convincingevidence to support the challenged findings of fact. We are unpersuaded by Respondent's arguments on this issue and thus overrule these assignments of error.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2004). In In re K.D., ___ N.C. App.
___, 631 S.E.2d 150
this Court held that the evidence was
sufficient to support the trial court's finding of neglect where
the parent had a history of leaving the child without ensuring he
was properly supervised and failed to attend parenting classes. Inaddition, we have upheld a finding of neglect where a parent failed
to regularly visit the child when the opportunity presented itself.
In re A.J.M., ___ N.C. App. ___, 630 S.E.2d 33
Evidence presented by DSS tended to show that Respondent purposefully left S.E.R., II in the care of the child's mother even though he knew she exposed him to injurious environments and individuals. In addition, it is uncontroverted that Respondent intentionally abandoned S.E.R., II when he abruptly moved to Florida without telling him goodbye, with the intention of never moving back to North Carolina. This was a purposeful and willful abandonment of S.E.R., II , which showed Respondent's past neglect of his child. Further, Respondent failed to complete parenting classes as suggested by DSS.
Respondent also contends that because S.E.R., II 's mother is no longer in his life, he is a fit parent and the evidence will not support a determination that any past neglect of the child is likely to be repeated. Again, we disagree. The evidence established that Respondent lied about his ongoing drug use and failed to complete drug screenings, despite several requests by DSS . For this reason, the trial court found that it is unclear as to whether [Respondent] currently uses drugs. Moreover, at the time of the hearing, although Respondent was employed, he did not have a history of stable employment. On the contrary, he hadchanged jobs every few months over a several-year period. In fact, at the time of the hearing, he was seeking to change jobs again.
Respondent also did not have a history of stable housing. At the time of the hearing, he was temporarily living with his friend, Roger. Respondent had arranged to move into a rental home owned by his grandfather, but had not yet done so. Respondent's housing history demonstrates his impulsivity, as he has lived in at least three different places during the past few years.
As previously set out, the trial court made detailed findings of fact, based on the aforementioned evidence, to establish Respondent's neglect of S.E.R., II. These findings of fact provide plenary support for the court's challenged conclusion of law that [t]he minor child has been neglected by the Respondent/father within the meaning of N.C.G.S. 7B-101. This assignment of error is overruled.
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