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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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.
NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS
Filed: 7 August 2007
IN THE MATTER OF: New Hanover County
D.R.G. Nos. 98 J 159, 02 J 87
Appeal by respondent mother from order entered 19 December
2006 by Judge J.H. Corpening, II, in New Hanover County District
Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 23 July 2007.
No brief filed for petitioner-appellee New Hanover County
Department of Social Services.
Pamela Newell Williams, for guardian ad litem.
Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton LLP, by K. Edward Greene, for
A.G. (respondent) appeals from order entered adjudicating
her minor child, D.R.G., to be a neglected juvenile and placing him
in the legal and physical custody of the New Hanover County
Department of Social Services (DSS). We affirm in part, reverse
in part, and remand.
Respondent gave birth to D.R.G. in 1997 and to his half-sister
in 1998. The children were adjudicated neglected and dependent
juveniles on 14 May 1998, and DSS placed them in the home of their
maternal grandmother, R.M. In June 1998, their maternal
grandmother became unable to care for both children due to an
illness and they were returned to respondent's care until she wasincarcerated in September 1998. DSS placed both children in foster
care before again returning them to their maternal grandmother's
home in December 2000. In a review order entered 7 July 2000, the
trial court found that respondent was facing criminal charges, had
failed to address chronic issues of substance abuse, impulsive
behavior and lack of judgment . . . [and] persisted in maintaining
relationships with persons who pose a risk of harm to her
children. On 29 March 2001, the children's maternal grandmother
instituted custody proceedings under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.1 and
was awarded legal and physical custody of both children.
D.D.P. was born in 2001 and was adjudicated a neglected
juvenile in 2002. The finding of neglect was based upon
respondent's habitual substance abuse, lack of stable employment
and housing, and participation in fights and arguments which
invite involvement of law enforcement and criminal charges. On 21
April 2003, the trial court awarded legal and physical custody of
D.D.P. to her father, F.P. The custody order noted that respondent
had been arrested for numerous violations of her probation and
was facing an additional criminal charge of communicating threats.
During the 2001-02 school year, D.R.G. began to exhibit
aggressive behavior and was identified as a special needs or at
risk child. He received services for aggressive and oppositional-
defiant behavior at the Child Development Center, and was diagnosed
with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant
disorder, encopresis, and enuresis. DSS provided protective
services to D.R.G. and his half-sister, and filed a petitionalleging that the children were neglected and dependent on 26 April
On 4 March 2003, the trial court adjudicated D.R.G.'s half-
sister to be a dependent juvenile after finding that their maternal
grandmother was unable to protect her from D.R.G.'s physical
aggression or to otherwise provide for her needs due to the
challenges posed by caring for D.[R.G.] The trial court
dismissed the petition regarding D.R.G. after finding that his
maternal grandmother was cooperating with his in-home therapist and
was addressing his special needs by making use of available
resources. However, the trial court further found that their
maternal grandmother: (1) had clashed with Child Development
Center staff regarding D.R.G.'s naps at school; (2) was
inconsistent in administering D.R.G.'s psychiatric medication; (3)
was unsuccessful in implementing either a medication plan or a
behavioral plan which alleviated D.[R.G.]'s behaviors; (4)
resisted every agency and professional who was trying to assist
her manage the children and meet the children's needs; and (5)
placed all of the blame for the children's difficulties on DSS and
the foster care system. On 8 August 2003, the trial court placed
D.R.G.'s half-sister in the legal and physical custody of her
On 12 July 2006, DSS filed a petition alleging D.R.G. and
D.D.P. were neglected, in that they lived in an environment
injurious to their welfare and were denied proper care,
supervision, discipline, and necessary remedial care. The petitionalleged that D.D.P. had been abandoned by her father to the care of
respondent and her mother, who had failed to protect D.D.P. from
the verbal and physical aggression of D.R.G. DSS further alleged
respondent and her mother were inconsistent in their adherence to
treatment plans for D.R.G. and that, consequently, D.R.G. was
aggressive[,] out of control[,] and lacked control of his bowels.
The petition noted the opinion of a mental health case manager that
D.R.G.'s problems were emotional rather than behavioral in
origin. Finally, the petition characterized both D.R.G. and
D.D.P. as extremely obese.
On 12 July 2006, DSS obtained non-secure custody of D.R.G. and
placed him in therapeutic foster care, as recommended by his
treatment team. Following the seven-day hearing, the trial court
ordered D.R.G. to remain in DSS's custody and authorized his
continued placement in therapeutic foster care. The trial court
found, inter alia, that respondent and her mother acknowledge[d]
D.[R.G.]'s problems and his need for out of home placmement but
were adamant in their denial of responsibility for D.[R.G.]'s need
for placement and . . . insistent that they ha[d] done everything
they can for him. The trial court placed D.D.P. in DSS's custody,
but allowed her to remain in her maternal grandmother's care.
A review hearing was held on 1 November 2006 and respondent
did not attend. The trial court adjudicated D.R.G. and D.D.P.
neglected juveniles and found they had been abandoned by their
fathers and did not receive proper care and supervision [and]
resided in an environment injurious to their welfare while in thecare of their maternal grandmother and respondent. The trial court
continued D.D.P.'s placement with her maternal grandmother subject
to the conditions of its prior order and maintained DSS's placement
authority over D.R.G. The trial court relieved DSS of further
efforts to reunify D.R.G. with either parent and excluded placement
with his maternal grandmother as a potential relative. Respondent
appeals. Although the trial court also adjudicated D.D.P. a
neglected juvenile, respondent does not appeal her adjudication or
Respondent argues the trial court erred by: (1) adjudicating
D.R.G. neglected when its conclusions of law are not supported by
finding of fact based upon clear and convincing evidence; (2)
finding as fact D.R.G. was not receiving proper care in his
maternal grandmother's home; (3) ordering D.R.G. remain in DSS
custody when it is not in his best interests; (4) ceasing
reunification efforts; and (5) ordering supervised visitation with
III. Standard of Review
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 N.C. Gen.
Stat. ch. 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
In re Weiler, 158 N.C. App. 473, 477, 581 S.E.2d 134, 137 (2003).
The trial court's 'conclusions of law are reviewable de novo on
appeal.' In re D.M.M., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 633 S.E.2d 715,
716 (2006) (quoting Starco, Inc. v. AMG Bonding and Ins. Servs.,
124 N.C. App. 332, 336, 477 S.E.2d 211, 215 (1996)).
IV. Neglected Juvenile
Respondent first challenges the trial court's adjudication of
D.R.G. as a neglected juvenile under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15).
Respondent asserts that the trial court found no facts to support
its determination that D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother denied proper
care and supervision to D.R.G., or that she created a living
environment that was injurious to his welfare. Respondent
characterizes the trial court's findings as one-sided and
evincing a bias in favor of DSS's witnesses. We disagree.
The Juvenile Code defines a neglected juvenile as one who,
inter alia, does not receive proper care, supervision, or
discipline . . .; 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[.] N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2005). To sustain an adjudication of neglect,
the alleged conditions must cause the child some physical, mental,
or emotional impairment, or create a substantial risk of such
impairment. In re Safriet, 112 N.C. App. 747, 752, 436 S.E.2d 898,
901-02 (1993). [T]he trial court [has] some discretion in
determining whether children are at risk for a particular kind of
harm given their age and the environment in which they reside inapplying the definition of neglect under N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-101(15). In re McLean, 135 N.C. App. 387, 395, 521 S.E.2d 121,
126 (1999). The fact that a caretaker displays love and concern
for the child does not preclude an adjudication of neglect under
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15). In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. 101, 109,
316 S.E.2d 246, 251-52 (1984). Rather the determinative factors
are the circumstances and conditions surrounding the child, not the
fault or culpability of the [caretaker]. Id.
An adjudication of neglect under Article 8 of the Juvenile
Code must be supported by facts proven by clear and convincing
evidence. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-805 and § 7B-807 (2005). As finder
of fact in these proceedings, the trial court must determine the
credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given their
testimony. In re Gleisner, 141 N.C. App. 475, 480, 539 S.E.2d
362, 365 (2000). This Court is bound by the trial court's findings
even if there is evidence which would support a finding to the
contrary. In re J.S., 165 N.C. App. 509, 511, 598 S.E.2d 658, 660
(2004) (citing In re Weiler, 158 N.C. App. 473, 477, 581 S.E.2d
134, 137 (2003)). Moreover, '[w]here no exception is taken to a
finding of fact by the trial court, the finding is presumed to be
supported . . . and is binding on appeal.' In re L.A.B., 178 N.C.
App. 295, 298, 631 S.E.2d 61, 64 (2006) (quoting Koufman v.
Koufman, 330 N.C. 93, 97, 408 S.E.2d 729, 731 (1991)).
Respondent failed to assign error to any of the trial court's
individual findings of fact which support the adjudication of
neglect. This Court's review of this issue is limited todetermining whether the trial court's adjudicatory findings support
its conclusion that D.R.G. was neglected. In re Beasley, 147 N.C.
App. 399, 405, 555 S.E.2d 643, 647 (2001) (citing In re Huff, 140
N.C. App. 288, 291, 536 S.E.2d 838, 840 (2000), appeal dismissed
and disc. rev. denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9 (2001)). While
respondent objects generally to the weight and credibility accorded
to competing testimonies of witnesses, such matters are the
exclusive province of the trial court as fact-finder. In re J.S.,
165 N.C. App. at 511, 598 S.E.2d at 660; Gleisner, 141 N.C. App. at
480, 539 S.E.2d at 365.
The trial court entered extensive findings regarding D.R.G.'s
placement history, respondent's sporadic and dysfunctional
involvement with her son, his maternal grandmother's protracted
difficulties in addressing D.R.G.'s special needs, and the
emotional and developmental difficulties D.R.G. has experienced as
a result. Unchallenged findings show:
7. That [respondent] has been in and out of
[her mother's] home. [Respondent] . . . moved
out of the home during the first week of
October 2006 and has remained out of the home.
. . . Prior to leaving her mother's home,
[she] was not working on the provisions of her
case plan as far as participating in planning
meetings with the children. . . .
8. That [respondent] has been diagnosed as bi
polar (sic) and may have other psychiatric
diagnoses as well as a history of substance
abuse. [She] is not in treatment and is not
taking medication. [Respondent]'s presence in
[her mother's] home with the children
contributed to the emotional instability and
chaos of the home. . . .
9. That D[.R.G.] has been identified as an
At Risk child and certified for IntensiveBehavior Support by the New Hanover County
School System and Southeastern Center for
Mental Health. That D[.R.G.] was identified
as special needs in kindergarten and before as
he was the recipient of services from the
Child Development Center. . . . D[.R.G.]'s
aggression has at times been directed toward
D[.D.P.] as it had previously been directed
toward another half-sister.
10. That D[.R.G.] is extremely large for his
age, both taller than average and obese. When
placed in therapeutic foster care in July
2006, there were concerns that D[.R.G.]
suffered from an endocrinology disorder but as
he has lost weight while in care, those
concerns have abated.
. . . .
12. That throughout D[.R.G.]'s schooling, he
has been placed in an Intensive Behavior
Support classroom. Throughout 2005-2006
school year, D[.R.G.] displayed episodic
aggression toward adults and had multiple
weekly incidents of encopresis and enuresis.
D[.R.G.] was often not willing to change after
an incident and the soiling and wetting were
hygiene issues for the school as fecal matter
would often fall to the carpet. Sleeping in
class was a major issue for D[.R.G.], as he
would fall sound asleep for as much as two
hours at a time and could not be awaken[ed] by
school staff. D[.R.G.] was unable to complete
one day of End of Grade testing because of
13. That both the encopresis and sleeping in
class seemed to become exacerbated when
[respondent] was in the home. [His maternal
grandmother] attributed some of the incidents
to medication and D[.R.G.] did not seem to be
consistently medicated. [His maternal
grandmother] attended meetings at the school
about D[.R.G.] regularly. [Respondent] rarely
attended school meetings. At the meetings at
school, [his maternal grandmother] was
frequently combative with D[.R.G.]'s case
manager, therapists and others.
. . . .
15. That D[.R.G.]'s behavioral issues
interfered greatly with his learning.
Although in the third grade, on the End of
Grade Test in May 2006, D[.R.G.] read at the
first grade, seven-month level. In contrast,
at the last grading period of this school year
and since his placement in foster care,
D[.R.G.] is reading at third grade, five-month
level. D[.R.G.] has been mainstreamed in all
his classes this school year. D[.R.G.]'s
improvement in both behavior at school and his
academic performance is directly attributable
to the consistency provided in the foster
home. Consistency was lacking in [his
maternal grandmother's] home.
16. . . . [S]ince his placement in foster
care, D[.R.G.] has experienced no incidents of
encopresis at school. Encopresis remains an
issue in his foster home. D[.R.G.] has
displayed no severe incident of aggression
this school year and the one incident in which
he was aggressive to his teacher, followed an
in-home therapy session with [his maternal
grandmother]. D[.R.G.] is beginning to accept
responsibility for his behavior and has placed
himself in his IBS classroom when he felt the
need for more structure.
17. That [DSS] . . . participat[ed] with
D[.R.G.]'s treatment team and service
providers but the inconsistency in follow
through with recommendations by [his maternal
grandmother] and [respondent] and the threat
that D[.R.G.] poses to D[.D.P.] necessitated
D[.R.G.]'s removal. That Karen Myers, a
Family Preservation specialist provided in
home therapy to D[.R.G.] and [his maternal
grandmother] for six months beginning in
August 2005. . . . The goals of in home
therapy were to potty train D[.R.G.] and to
have all adults involved in the care of the
children to be consistent in the expectations
of the children: to have a consistent bedtime
routine; to remind D[.R.G.] to go to the
bathroom and to assist him in the bathroom if
he did not respond; to administer D[.R.G.]'s
medications consistently and as prescribed.
While there was acknowledgment by [his
maternal grandmother] of the need to adhere to
these expectations, there was little or no
follow through. . . .
18. That at the time of the filing of the
petition, D[.R.G.]'s behavior was out of
control and beyond the control of [his
maternal grandmother]. D[.R.G.]'s behavior
constituted a risk of harm to D[.D.P.].
19. That [D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother]
tends to blame D[.R.G.]'s misbehavior and
difficulties on . . . his former placement in
foster care, his schoolteachers, medications,
the failure of the system and to a lesser
extent, [respondent]. That there is no
evidence to indicate D[.R.G.]'s behavior
problems are attributable to these events or
causes . . . . [D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother]
does not accept responsibility for D[.R.G.]'s
placement in foster care and has on occasion
told D[.R.G.] that his placement was [his]
These findings are supported by the testimony of New Hanover
County Schools Behavior Specialist Suzanne Wriling, who had worked
with D.R.G. for five years prior to the hearing, Principal Rebecca
Higgins Ogrand at College Park, D.R.G.'s in-home therapist, Dr.
Karen Myers, and DSS social workers Marlene Dancy and Kim Francum.
The facts found by the trial court support its adjudication of
D.R.G. as a neglected juvenile under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15).
The findings show both a lack of appropriate and consistent care,
supervision, and discipline for D.R.G. and a substantial impairment
to his physical, emotional, and educational development. The
evidence shows D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother made efforts to
address his special needs, but was unable to provide him with the
structure he needed or to fully agree with his medication, therapy,
and other remedial care. She often voiced concerns that D.R.G.'s
sleeping and medical conditions were attributed to medications
prescribed. The record further shows no meaningful participationby respondent in D.R.G.'s treatment or care. This assignment of
error is overruled.
Respondent challenges four aspects of the disposition entered
by the trial court. She first assigns error to the trial court's
dispositional finding '[t]hat return of [D.R.G.] to the home would
be contrary to the welfare of [D.R.G.] in that in his foster home
placement, [D.R.G.] is receiving the care he needs for the first
time in his life.' Respondent also asserts that the evidence does
not support a finding that D.R.G. would be denied necessary
services in her care because D.R.G.'s grandmother testified that
she intended to place D.R.G. in another therapeutic setting if he
returned to her custody. We disagree.
Clear, cogent, and convincing evidence supports the trial
court's challenged findings. In addition to the testimony of
members of D.R.G.'s treatment team, the trial court received
written reports from DSS and the guardian ad litem and considered
the findings contained in prior orders. These sources cumulatively
showed that D.R.G.'s treatment needs had never been adequately
addressed during his years in his maternal grandmother's care, and
that he suffered substantial impairment to his physical, emotional,
and intellectual development. D.R.G.'s sudden and remarkable
progress in therapeutic foster care was consistent with the opinion
of his treatment team that he would respond positively in an
appropriate home environment. D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother
testified she could no longer physically restrain D.R.G. and wouldbe unable to rear him in her home. The evidence also showed a
significant risk of harm to D.D.P. if D.R.G. was placed in the same
home with her. This assignment of error is overruled.
VI. Legal Custody and Visitation
We next consider two related claims by respondent challenging
aspects of the trial court's disposition. Respondent asserts the
trial court erred by awarding legal custody to DSS and granting
only supervised visitation to her and D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother
without finding as fact that such disposition would be in
[D.R.G.]'s best interests, as required by North Carolina law.
Respondent also asserts the trial court erred by determining that
D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother was not a viable placement option for
D.R.G. Respondent argues these decretal provisions are unsupported
by sufficient findings of fact or conclusions of law.
A. Best Interests
Upon an adjudication of abuse, neglect, or dependency, N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-903 authorizes the trial court to select from an
array of dispositional alternatives when the court finds the
disposition to be in the best interests of the juvenile[.] The
trial court enjoys broad discretion in crafting an appropriate
disposition under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-903. In re Chasse, 116 N.C.
App. 52, 62, 446 S.E.2d 855, 860-61 (1994) (applying former statute
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-640 (1989)). [T]here is no burden of proof
at disposition. The court solely considers the best interests of
the child. In re Dexter, 147 N.C. App. 110, 114, 553 S.E.2d 922,
924-25 (2001) (citations omitted). However, the trial court mustsupport its disposition with findings sufficient to show that it
considered the best interest of the child. In re Chasse, 116 N.C.
App. at 62, 446 S.E.2d at 861 (citation omitted).
The trial court's findings reflect a disposition based upon
D.R.G.'s best interests. The trial court described the reasonable
efforts made by DSS to avoid removing D.R.G. from his maternal
grandmother's home, and specifically found that returning D.R.G. to
his maternal grandmother would be contrary to the welfare of
D.R.G. in that in his foster home placement, [he] is receiving the
care he needs for the first time in his life. These finding were
sufficient to support D.R.G.'s placement in DSS custody under N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(a). Although the order refers to the welfare
rather than best interests of D.R.G., our trial courts have used
these terms interchangeably in child custody proceedings. See
Harrington v. Harrington, 286 N.C. 260, 264, 210 S.E.2d 190, 193
(1974) (The welfare or best interests of the children . . . was
the paramount consideration to guide the court in awarding custody
of the minor children.); In re P.L.P., 173 N.C. App. 1, 9, 618
S.E.2d 241, 246 (2005) ('The welfare or best interest of the child
is always to be treated as the paramount consideration[.]'
(quoting In re Montgomery, 311 N.C. at 109, 316 S.E.2d at 252 and
Wilson v. Wilson, 269 N.C. 676, 678, 153 S.E.2d 349, 351 (1967)),
aff'd, 360 N.C. 360, 625 S.E.2d 779 (2006). Although the trial
court did not expressly find D.R.G.'s best interests were served by
his receiving the care he needs for the first time in his life,
the conclusion is implicit in the trial court's findings. The trial court's best interests assessment is supported by
findings of fact grounded in the witness testimony and documentary
evidence. The trial court found that D.R.G. showed marked
improvement after DSS gained custody and placed him in a
therapeutic foster home, that his maternal grandmother was unable
to meet D.R.G.'s extraordinary needs, or to protect D.D.P. from
D.R.G.'s aggression. The trial court's findings also reflect
respondent's longstanding instability and inattention to D.R.G.'s
treatment and care. Respondent has not assigned error to these
findings and they are binding upon appeal. Koufman, 330 N.C. at
97, 408 S.E.2d at 731.
As for the trial court's exclusion of D.R.G.'s maternal
grandmother as a potential relative placement for D.R.G., we note
that she ruled herself out as a placement option. See N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-903(a)(2)(c) (2005). She testified that if D.R.G. was
returned to her custody, she would place him [i]n a therapeutic
[group] home because that's what he needs. When asked why she
intended to place D.R.G. in a group home, his maternal grandmother
. . . D.R.G. got very aggressive to me and I
can't have that in my home. I cannot be
afraid of D[.R.G]. . . . I know how to
restrain him but he got to the age where he's
too big to be restrained by me. You know, . .
. a man could restrain him but I can't.
Respondent also acknowledged that D.R.G. had assaulted D.D.P. while
living with her and characterized D.D.P. as one hundred percent
better since D.R.G.'s removal from the home. DSS social worker
Francum advised the trial court that a group home placement woulddeny D.R.G. the individual attention he was receiving in foster
care and expose him to the ridicule of older boys, if he soiled
himself. The guardian ad litem concurred with this opinion,
warning that a group home placement would reverse the progress
D.R.G. had made in therapeutic foster care.
B. Supervised Visitation
Respondent also challenges the trial court's decision to
require her and D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother's visitation with him
to be supervised. This Court reviews the trial court's
dispositional orders of visitation for an abuse of discretion. In
re C.M., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 644 S.E.2d 588, 595 (2007)
(citations omitted). The trial court made sufficient findings
regarding D.R.G.'s best interests. At the time of hearing,
respondent was not cooperating with DSS in a case plan or receiving
treatment for her bipolar disorder and chronic substance abuse.
Assuming, arguendo, that respondent may contest this aspect of
D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother's visitation, the supervision
requirement was justified by D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother's
admitted inability to control D.R.G.'s aggressive behavior, and the
potential risks posed to D.D.P. The trial court also found that
D.R.G.'s maternal grandmother had made inappropriate statements to
D.R.G., and blamed him for his placement in foster care. She
acknowledged telling D.R.G. that if his behavior kept up and he
did not [behave] that he would be placed away again to a group
Visitation is not classified as a dispositional alternativeunder N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-903. The trial court must grant
appropriate visitation as may be in the best interests of the
juvenile and consistent with the juvenile's health and safety
whenever its disposition removes custody from a parent, custodian,
guardian, or caretaker or continues a child in a placement outside
the home. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-903 (2005); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
905(c) (2005). Where DSS is awarded custody or placement
authority, the trial court may direct DSS to arrange, facilitate,
and supervise [the trial court's] visitation plan[.] N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-905(b).
The trial court's order failed to establish any terms for
respondent's visitation other than under DSS's supervision. An
appropriate visitation plan must provide for a minimum outline of
visitation, such as the time, place, and conditions under which
visitation may be exercised. In re E.C., 174 N.C. App. 517, 523,
621 S.E.2d 647, 652 (2005) (citing In re Stancil, 10 N.C. App. 545,
552, 179 S.E.2d 844, 849 (1971)). We remand for clarification
[and specification] of respondent['s] visitation rights. In re
K.S., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, ___ S.E.2d ___, ___ (5 June 2007)
C. Ceasing Reunification
In her final argument, respondent asserts that the trial court
erred by relieving DSS of further efforts toward reunification
without making the necessary findings under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
507(b). We agree.
The statute authorizes the trial court to cease reunificationefforts only upon entry of one of four written findings of
fact[,] including a finding 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). This Court has
held that [w]hen a trial court ceases reunification efforts with
a parent, it is required to make findings of fact pursuant to N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b). In re C.M., ___ N.C. App. at ___, 644
S.E.2d at 594 (citing In re Harton, 156 N.C. App. 655, 660, 577
S.E.2d 334, 337 (2003)); In re D.L., 166 N.C. App. 574, 584, 603
S.E.2d 376, 383 (2004); In re Weiler, 158 N.C. App. at 477, 581
S.E.2d at 137. When a trial court is required to make findings of
fact, it must 'find the facts specially.' Harton, 156 N.C. App.
at 660, 577 S.E.2d at 337 (citing N.C.R. Civ. P. 52(a)(1); In re
Anderson, 151 N.C. App. 94, 96, 564 S.E.2d 599, 601 (2002)).
Here, the order ceasing reunification efforts is not supported
by or grounded upon any of the statutorily required findings. N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b). The fact that the record might support
such a finding under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(b)(1) does not
relieve the trial court of its statutory obligations. See In re
Ledbetter, 158 N.C. App. 281, 285-86, 580 S.E.2d 392, 394-95
(2003). The order, insofar as it orders DSS to cease reunification
efforts, is reversed and remanded for further proceedings and
statutorily required findings consistent with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
507(b). In re D.L., 166 N.C. App. at 585, 603 S.E.2d at 383.
The trial court's adjudication of neglect is affirmed. The
trial court's disposition granting legal custody of D.R.G. and
placement authority to DSS is also affirmed.
We remand to the trial court to statutorily clarify and
specify respondent's visitation rights in accordance with In re
, 174 N.C. App. at 523, 621 S.E.2d at 652. We also reverse
that portion of the order which cease reunification efforts and
remand for further proceedings consistent with N.C. Gen. Stat. §
Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, and Remanded.
Judges MCGEE and ELMORE concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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