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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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

NO. COA06-1219

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 15 May 2007

IN THE MATTER OF

    L.L. and N.L.,                Johnston County
    Minor Children.            Nos. 02 J 177
                                04 J 218

    Appeal by respondents from orders entered 3 April and 13 April 2006 by Judge Albert A. Corbett, Jr. in Johnston County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 29 March 2007.

    Holland & O'Connor, by Jennifer S. O'Connor, for petitioner Johnston County Department of Social Services.

    Peter Wood for respondent father.

    Richard Croutharmel for respondent mother.

    Elizabeth Myrick Boone for guardian ad litem.

    BRYANT, Judge.

    R.L.   (See footnote 1)  (respondent-father) and S.L. (respondent-mother) appeal from orders entered 3 April and 13 April 2006, ordering the cessation of reunification efforts with their minor children L.L. and N.L. and changing the permanent plan for the children to adoption. After careful review, we affirm the orders of the trial court.

Facts and Procedural History
    Respondents were married on 16 April 2001, and have had three children together: M.L. (not a party to this case), born in 2001; L.L., born in October 2002; and N.L., born in May 2004. On 17 October 2002, Johnston County Department of Social Services (JCDSS) filed a juvenile petition containing allegations of neglect and dependency of the juvenile L.L. L.L. was adjudicated as neglected and dependent on 20 November 2003. L.L. remained in the custody of JCDSS in foster care and the agency worked towards reunification with the parents. Respondents appealed the adjudication and, on 21 July 2004, L.L. was placed in the home of the respondents, with joint custody remaining with the former foster parents, pending the outcome of the appeal.
    On 12 November 2004, JCDSS filed a juvenile petition alleging that N.L. was abused, neglected and dependent as the juvenile had suffered broken bones while in the care of respondents. JCDSS also filed a new petition with allegations of neglect concerning L.L. at the same time. JCDSS resumed custody of L.L. and N.L. and they were again placed with foster parents. These petitions were heard from 28 February 2005 through 10 May 2005, and the trial court found N.L. to be an abused and neglected child and L.L. was found to be a neglected child. At the disposition hearing held on 10 May 2005, L.L. and N.L. remained in the custody of JCDSS, with placement in foster care and the court ordered continued efforts towards reunification with respondents.
    After several continuances, a combined permanency planning and ninety-day review hearing in this matter concluded on 14 March2006. The trial court subsequently entered orders for L.L. and N.L. which continued custody of L.L. and N.L. with JCDSS with placement in foster care, relieved JCDSS of further efforts towards reunification, and terminated visitation between respondents and their minor children. On 3 April 2006, the trial court held another permanency planning hearing on this matter and thereafter entered an order changing the permanent plan for L.L. and N.L. to adoption. Respondents appeal.
_________________________

    Respondents individually present two similar issues as to whether the trial court erred in: (I) ceasing reunification efforts between respondents and their minor children and changing the permanent plan for the minor children to adoption; and (II) terminating visitation between respondents and their minor children.
    
Standard of Review

    “Appellate review of a permanency planning order is limited to whether there is competent evidence in the record to support the findings and the findings support the conclusions of law.” In re J.C.S., 164 N.C. App. 96, 106, 595 S.E.2d 155, 161 (2004). “If the trial court's findings of fact are supported by competent evidence, they are conclusive on appeal.” In re Weiler, 158 N.C. App. 473, 477, 581 S.E.2d 134, 137 (2003). However, the “trial court's conclusions of law are reviewable de novo.” In re J.J., J.J., J.J., __ N.C. App. __, __, 637 S.E.2d 258, 260 (2006).    A trial court's dispositional order must be based on the best interests of the child and the dispositional alternatives are left within the discretion of the trial court, which are not reversible absent an abuse of discretion. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-903 (2005); In re Pittman, 149 N.C. App. 756, 766, 561 S.E.2d 560, 567, disc. review denied, 356 N.C. 163, 568 S.E.2d 608-09 (2002), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 982, 155 L. Ed. 2d 673 (2003). “An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's ruling is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.” In re Robinson, 151 N.C. App. 733, 737, 567 S.E.2d 227, 229 (2002) (citations and quotations omitted).
I

    Respondents argue the trial court erred in ceasing reunification efforts between respondents and L.L. and N.L. and changing the permanent plan for the minor children to adoption. Respondents contend the trial court's findings of fact are not supported by competent evidence and do not in turn support the trial court's conclusions of law. We disagree.
    It is well established that the purpose of a permanency planning hearing is 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); In re Eckard, 148 N.C. App. 541, 543, 559 S.E.2d 233, 234 (citation and quotations omitted), disc. review denied, 356 N.C. 163, 568 S.E.2d 192-93 (2002). At the conclusion of a permanency planning hearing, if the trial court determines the children are not to return home, the trial court isrequired to consider the following criteria and make written findings of fact on any criteria relevant to the case:
        (1) Whether it is possible for the juvenile to be returned home immediately or within the next six months, and if not, why it is not in the juvenile's best interests to return home;

        (2) Where the juvenile's return home is unlikely within six months, whether legal guardianship or custody with a relative or some other suitable person should be established, and if so, the rights and responsibilities which should remain with the parents;

        (3) Where the juvenile's return home is unlikely within six months, whether adoption should be pursued and if so, any barriers to the juvenile's adoption;
        
        (4) Where the juvenile's return home is unlikely within six months, whether the juvenile should remain in the current placement or be placed in another permanent living arrangement and why;
        
        (5) Whether the county department of social services has since the initial permanency plan hearing made reasonable efforts to implement the permanent plan for the juvenile;
        
        (6) Any other criteria the court deems necessary.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-907(b) (2005); In re Harton, 156 N.C. App. 655, 659, 577 S.E.2d 334, 336-37 (2003). A trial court may order the cessation of reunification efforts if it finds as fact that reunification 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;” or “[a] court of competent jurisdiction has terminated involuntarily the parental rights of the parent[s] to another child of theparent[s.]” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b)(1),(3) (2005). “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.
    In its final dispositional order, entered 13 April 2006, changing the permanent plan for L.L. and N.L. from reunification to adoption, the trial court made twenty-seven separate findings of fact. Specifically, pursuant to the statutory mandate set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat § 7B-507(b), the trial court found as fact that:
        25. ... Reasonable efforts to reunify should be ceased in that such efforts clearly would be futile or inconsistent with the juvenile's health, safety and need for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of time. From the testimony of the foster care mother, the Court finds that [respondent-mother] continues to exhibit lack of control and anger management and lack of parenting skills considered by the foster care mother to be essential to provide a safe home for these children. Further, that less than three weeks after achieving full reunification with [L.L.], both [L.L.] and [N.L.] were removed from their parents care after [N.L.] sustained a spiral fracture of the right leg and possible “buckle handle” fracture of the left knee on October 22, 2004 which medical professionals determined to have occurred by other than accidental means. Neither parent has accepted responsibility for this abuse and each continues to deny their involvement with it. A court of competent jurisdiction has terminated involuntarily the parental rights of another child to [respondents] in that the parental rights of [respondents] with respect to their daughter [M.L.] were terminated on November 15, 2003 by order entered in Johnston County District Court.
The trial court subsequently concluded:
        1. That it is clearly futile and inconsistent with the juveniles' safety and need for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of time to continue reunification efforts with either parent and further reasonable efforts with either parent are hereby terminated.

        2. The JCDSS exercised reasonable efforts at reunification.

        3. The JCDSS exercised reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of the juveniles from the home.

        4. The JCDSS has exercised reasonable efforts in maintaining concurrent plans and attempting to achieve permanence for these children at the earliest possible time.

        5. The Court, after reviewing all facts concerning relative placements, determines that all relative placements have been carefully considered and rules out all relatives who have been identified at this time as possible placement options.

The trial court then ordered:
        1. That [L.L.] and [N.L.], be and hereby shall remain in the custody of the JCDSS.

        2. That reasonable efforts toward reunification with either parent are futile and inconsistent with achieving a safe permanent home within a reasonable period of time and therefore, JCDSS is ordered to continue to be relieved of reunification efforts.
        
        3. That the Court hereby changes the permanent plan for [L.L] and [N.L.] to adoption.

    Respondents do not contest the trial court's finding that less than three weeks after L.L. was returned to respondent's care, both L.L. and N.L. were removed from respondent's care after N.L. sustained “a spiral fracture of the right leg and possible 'bucklehandle' fracture of the left knee . . . which medical professionals determined to have occurred by other than accidental means.” Nor do respondents contest that their parental rights to M.L. were terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction. These findings alone support the trial court's conclusion to cease efforts towards reunification with respondents under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b). Further, it is clear from the record before this Court that, in its orders entered 3 April and 13 April 2006, the trial court has made sufficient findings of fact supported by competent evidence concerning each of the criteria in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-907(b). Thus, we hold that the trial court did not err nor abuse its discretion in ordering the cessation of reunification efforts between respondents and L.L. and N.L. and changing the permanent plan for the minor children to adoption. These assignments of error are overruled.
II

    Respondents also individually argue the trial court erred in terminating visitation between respondents and their minor children. We disagree.
    A trial court has the authority to modify any aspect of a permanency plan for the minor children, including efforts toward reunification and visitation. In re J.S., 165 N.C. App. 509, 513, 598 S.E.2d 658, 661 (2004). Here, the trial court properly ordered the cessation of reunification efforts between respondents and L.L. and N.L. and changed the permanent plan for the minor children to adoption. Further, the trial court found as fact that respondents“have demonstrated a lack of supervision and ability on at least two occasions at recent supervised weekend visitations by failing to provide the constant [] supervision necessary for children of these ages.” This finding of fact is supported by competent evidence in the record before this Court. Given the facts and circumstances of the instant case, we hold the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the termination of visitation between respondents and L.L. and N.L. These assignments of error are overruled.
    Affirmed.
    Judges STEELMAN and LEVINSON concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).


Footnote: 1
    Initials are used throughout to protect the identity of the juveniles.

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