IN THE MATTER OF:
No. 05 J 485
S.M., C.E., E.E.
No brief filed by petitioner, Wake County Human Services.
Alexandra S. Gruber, North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program, for guardian ad litem-appellee.
Mary McCullers Reece, for respondent-appellant.
MARTIN, Chief Judge.
Respondent is the mother of three minor children, S.M., C.E.
and E.E. She appeals from a permanency planning order that changed
the permanent plan for the children from reunification to adoption.
On 4 November 2005 the minor children S.M. and C.E., ages five
years and four years, were adjudicated as neglected and dependent
by the Wake County District Court. The court adopted as the
permanent plan for the children reunification and an alternative
plan of placement of custody with a relative. On 3 November 2005,
the third child, E.E., was born to respondent. E.E. was
adjudicated as neglected and dependent on 6 January 2006. The
court directed Wake County Human Services to pursue the samepermanent and alternative plans as for the two older siblings.
The court held the permanency planning hearing giving rise to the present appeal in mid-March 2006. On 18 April 2006, the court filed the subject order. The court incorporated by reference the court summary prepared by Wake County Human Services and the guardian ad litem report to the court. These documents and the court's findings provide the following factual backdrop.
Prior to moving to Wake County and the birth of the children at issue in this proceeding, respondent lost custody of two children in 1992 due to ongoing neglect. She gave birth to a third child in 1995. That child was taken into custody due to a positive drug screen at the time of the child's birth. Her parental rights to these children were subsequently terminated.
Respondent has had continual problems with substance abuse, lack of proper care of her children, criminal activity, and incarcerations. Since May of 2001 Wake County Human Services received and investigated six child protective services reports concerning the children at issue in this appeal. These reports were substantiated for neglect and improper care due to the parents' drug usage and sexual abuse of the oldest child. Among other things, the children were being left at a day care for a full twenty-four hours for days at a time. Respondent was arrested and incarcerated on 23 August 2005 on charges of violations of controlled substances laws and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. She gave birth to the youngest child, E.E., while incarcerated on these charges. Wake County Human Servicesplaced the two older children with the paternal grandmother of the younger children. The youngest child is placed in a licensed foster home. The grandmother does not desire to permanently care for the children.
At the time of the permanency planning hearing in March 2006, respondent had been released from incarceration and had enrolled in TROSA, a residential substance abuse treatment program. This treatment program lasts for two years, the first year of which the participant is not allowed to have contact with his or her children. The program also does not permit children to reside with the participant parents.
The court found that while the TROSA program is a good substance abuse treatment program, it is not reasonable to expect that the children should wait for one year in foster care to even be able to visit their mother and two years before they can even be considered to be placed with their mother. The court made the following ultimate finding of fact:
30. That the following facts demonstrate that reunification efforts would be futile or inconsistent with the child's safety and need for a safe home within a reasonable time: a) The mother has chosen to attend a two-year substance abuse program which will not allow her children to visit regularly until at least one year has lapsed and will not be able to have her children reside with her for at least two years. Moreover, the mother is unable to provide any other family support or relatives who could care for the children while she completes the TROSA Program. The mother has a serious history of substance abuse that has lasted over 15 years. The mother has been enrolled in various treatment facilities over her 15-year substance abuse history; however, she has not been able to maintain sobrietyfrom abusing substances. The mother has indicated to the Court that she is committed to this program knowing it is a two-year program and it would be at least two years before her children could reside in her home. A Court of competent jurisdiction terminated the mother's parental rights to three other children.
The court concluded as a matter of law: (1) that it is in the best interests of the children that the court adopt the plan proposed by Wake County Human Services and the guardian ad litem; (2) that the best plan of care to achieve a safe, permanent home for the children within a reasonable time is adoption; and (3) that reunification efforts would be futile or inconsistent with the children's need for a safe home within a reasonable time.
In reviewing a permanency planning order, we determine whether the findings of fact are supported by competent evidence and whether the conclusions of law are supported by the findings of fact. See In re Weiler, 158 N.C. App. 473, 477, 581 S.E.2d 134, 137 (2003). The findings of fact are binding on appeal if supported by competent evidence. In re H.W., 163 N.C. App. 438, 443, 594 S.E.2d 211, 213, disc. review denied, 358 N.C. 543, 599 S.E.2d 46 (2004). Findings of fact to which error is not assigned and brought forward are deemed to be supported by competent evidence. See Koufman v. Koufman, 330 N.C. 93, 97, 408 S.E.2d 729, 731 (1991). [T]he trial court's conclusions of law are reviewable de novo. Starco Inc. v. AMG Bonding and Ins. Services, Inc., 124 N.C. App. 332, 335-36, 477 S.E.2d 211, 214-15 (1996).
Respondent contends the court erred in ordering the change of the plan to adoption on the ground the court's conclusions of laware not supported by its findings of fact and that its findings and conclusions do not support the court's order. However, she does not bring forward any assignments of error contending the findings of fact are not supported by the evidence.
Our General Assembly has declared that the policy in this state with regard to termination of parental rights is: (1) to provide judicial procedures for terminating the legal relationship between a juvenile and the juvenile's biological or legal parents when the parents have demonstrated that they will not provide the degree of care which promotes the healthy and orderly physical and emotional well-being of the juvenile; (2) to recognize the necessity for any juvenile to have a permanent plan of care at the earliest possible age, while at the same time recognizing the need to protect all juveniles from the unnecessary severance of a relationship with biological or legal parents; and (3) to take action which is in the best interests of the juvenile when the interests of the juvenile and those of the juvenile's parents or other persons are in conflict. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1100 (2006).
The Juvenile Code is to be interpreted and construed to ensure that the best interests of the juvenile are of paramount consideration by the court and that when it is not in the juvenile's best interest to be returned home, the juvenile will be placed in a safe, permanent home within a reasonable amount of time. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-100(5) (2004). In a situation where a child has been removed from the home, if a court finds that efforts to reunify would be inconsistent with the juvenile'shealth, safety, and need for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of time[,] it may enter an order directing that reunification efforts cease. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b)(1) (2004).
Respondent argues the court abused its discretion by ordering cessation of reunification efforts and changing the permanent plan to adoption. A judge is subject to reversal for abuse of discretion only upon a showing by a litigant that the challenged actions are manifestly unsupported by reason. Clark v. Clark, 301 N.C. 123, 129, 271 S.E.2d 58, 63 (1980). A discretionary decision is to be accorded great deference and will be upset only upon a showing that it was so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision. White v. White, 312 N.C. 770, 777, 324 S.E.2d 829, 833 (1985).
We conclude the court did not abuse its discretion. The court's findings of fact show that respondent has a significant long-term history of substance abuse and unsuccessful treatment programs. If respondent entered the TROSA program, the children could not reside with her for two years, a delay inconsistent with the intent of the General Assembly in promoting the implementation of a permanent plan at the earliest possible time. There is no guarantee that respondent will successfully complete the program.
We hold the court's findings of fact support its conclusions of law and its decision to change the permanent plan from reunification to adoption. The order is affirmed.
Judges McCULLOUGH and LEVINSON concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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