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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA07-341


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
D.D.P.

    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 respondent-appellant.

    TYSON, Judge.

    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.

I. Background
    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 2002.
    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 father, T.M.
    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 disposition.
II. Issues
    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 D.R.G.
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 efforts.
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 sleeping.

        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] fault.

    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.
V. Disposition
    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 explained:
        . . . 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 home.
    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) (No. COA06-1697).
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.
VII. Conclusion
    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 E.C., 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. § 7B-507(b).
    Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, and Remanded.
    Judges MCGEE and ELMORE concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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