IN THE MATTER OF:
S.D. Harnett County
T.T. Nos. 04 J 221-225
E. Marshall Woodall; and Duncan B. McCormick, for Harnett
County Department of Social Services petitioner-appellee.
Peter Wood for Efren V. respondent-father appellant.
Annick Lenoir-Peek for Susan V. respondent-mother appellant.
Elizabeth Myrick Boone for guardian ad litem.
A.V., I.V., and Z.T. are the minor children of Efren V. (respondent-father) and Susan V. (respondent-mother). C.T. and S.D. are the minor children of respondent-mother, and their fathers are not parties to the instant appeal. On 9 December 2004 the Harnett County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed juvenile petitions alleging that the minor children were neglected juveniles and on 18 March 2005 the children were adjudicated neglected finding that the children had been exposed to domestic violence and unsanitary conditions. The court ordered respondents to participatein the services included in the family case services plan and child medical evaluations, to cooperate with the child support office and social workers, to complete a psychological evaluation, and to participate in the Re-entry program and the HALT program. Respondent-father was further ordered to participate in a sex offender's class.
On 26 August 2005, the trial court conducted a review hearing and found that respondents failed to make adequate progress even though they had the opportunity to do more than they accomplished and that further efforts would be futile and inconsistent with the children's safety and need for a safe and permanent home. The court further terminated visitation between respondents and the children, finding that the continuation of visitation would be contrary to the welfare of the children.
Both respondents contend on appeal that the trial court erred in finding and concluding that DSS should cease reunification efforts between the parents and their children. We disagree. We review a trial court's findings of fact to determine whether they are supported by competent evidence; if so, they are binding on appeal, even if there is evidence that would support a finding to the contrary. In re Weiler, 158 N.C. App. 473, 477, 581 S.E.2d 134, 137 (2003). When, as in this case, a respondent has not assigned error to specific findings of fact, those findings are deemed supported by competent evidence and are conclusive onappeal. Koufman v. Koufman, 330 N.C. 93, 97, 408 S.E.2d 729, 731 (1991).
All dispositional orders of the trial court after abuse, neglect and dependency hearings must contain findings of fact based upon the credible evidence presented at the hearing. If the trial court's findings of fact are supported by competent evidence, they are conclusive on appeal. In a permanency planning hearing held pursuant to Chapter 7B, the trial court can only order the cessation of reunification efforts when it finds facts based upon credible evidence presented at the hearing that support its conclusion of law to cease reunification efforts.
Weiler, 158 N.C. App. at 477, 581 S.E.2d at 137 (citations omitted). The purpose of the permanency planning hearing shall be to develop a plan to achieve a safe, permanent home for the juvenile within a reasonable period of time. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-907(a) (2005). A trial court may order that reunification efforts with a child's parents cease when the court finds as fact that [s]uch efforts clearly would be futile or would be inconsistent with the juvenile's health, safety, and need for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of time[.] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b)(1) (2005).
Here the trial court found there is a long history of social service involvement with this family, including problems in Florida involving allegations of sexual abuse, domestic violence and improper care. Respondent-father was ordered by the court to participate in a sexual offender assessment prior to being allowed to have any visitation with his children which he has failed to do.Respondents entered into a family services agreement but have failed to comply with the agreement. Both respondents failed to regularly attend Re-entry and HALT programs which they were ordered to attend and the services were subsequently closed to them. Respondents were required to attend psychological evaluations; however, while five were scheduled only one was attended and even then testing was not completed due to failure to cooperate. No child support has been paid, respondents have failed to obtain a residence or employment, and since the removal of the children from the home, respondent-father has been charged and convicted of domestic violence against the mother.
Respondents contended that the failure to attend the ordered evaluations and services was due to a lack of transportation and money; however, respondent-mother was able to find transportation to all visitations. DSS sustained the cost of the Re-entry program which respondents failed to attend, and respondent-mother testified that respondents did not attend evaluation sessions because they did not need it.
The trial court's findings of fact amply support its determination that further reunification efforts would be futile. See In re M.J.G., 168 N.C. App. 638, 649, 608 S.E.2d 813, 820 (2005) (finding reunification efforts futile where the trial court found the mother failed to utilize offered services); In re D.J.D., D.M.D., S.J.D., J.M.D., 171 N.C. App. 230, 238, 615 S.E.2d 26, 32 (2005) (finding reunification efforts futile where respondent hadnot cooperated with DSS). Accordingly, this assignment of error is overruled.
Respondents further argue on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion in finding and concluding that visitation between the minor children and respondents be ceased. We disagree.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-905(c) (2005) specifically states in part that:
Any dispositional order under which a juvenile is removed from the custody of a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker, or under which the juvenile's placement is continued outside the home shall provide for appropriate visitation as may be in the best interests of the juvenile and consistent with the juvenile's health and safety. If the juvenile is placed in the custody or placement responsibility of a county department of social services, the court may order the director to arrange, facilitate, and supervise a visitation plan expressly approved by the court. If the director subsequently makes a good faith determination that the visitation plan may not be in the best interests of the juvenile or consistent with the juvenile's health and safety, the director may temporarily suspend all or part of the visitation plan. The director shall not be subjected to any motion to show cause for this suspension, but shall expeditiously file a motion for review.
The trial court found, and respondents did not except to such findings, that the children were progressing well and thriving in foster care; respondent-father has not visited the children due to failure to comply with a court order that he attend a sexual offender's assessment before being allowed to visit the children; and that respondent-mother has visited the children but hasproblems in being able to meet the needs of all the children during the visits.
The trial court further found that continuing DSS custody of the juveniles was in the best interest of the children and that continuing visitation would be contrary to the welfare of the children. While these findings of fact do not explicitly state that ceasing respondents' visitation rights with the minor children is in the children's best interest (the language used by the above statute), they do clearly imply that such is the case. Thus, the trial court's conclusion that such visitation be ceased is not an abuse of its discretion, and this assignment of error is overruled.
Respondent-father further contends that the trial court erred in entering an order which failed to comply with the requirements set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906. We disagree.
Specifically, respondent-father contends that the trial court's order did not comply with the statutory mandate set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906 where it did not make findings as to each and every factor set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906(c). However, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906(c) only requires that a trial court make written findings regarding the relevant criteria. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906(c) (2005). A review of the trial court's order clearly reveals that the trial court made the necessary findings in regard to reunification, efforts for a plan for other methods of care, reports on placements and services offered to the juveniles,the visitation plan, and foster care. Therefore, this assignment of error is overruled.
The remainder of respondents' assignments of error were not briefed on appeal; and thus, according to N.C. R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (2005), they are abandoned.
Accordingly, the order of the trial court ceasing reunification efforts and visitation rights between respondents and the minor children is affirmed.
Judges HUNTER and ELMORE concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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