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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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:
D.D.D. Johnston County
S.L.N. Nos. 06 JT 110, 06 JT 111
Appeal by respondent mother from order entered 19 February
2007 by Judge Edward H. McCormick in Johnston County District
Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 23 July 2007.
Jennifer S. O'Connor, for petitioner-appellee Johnston County
Department of Social Services.
Mobley Law Office, P.A., by Marie H. Mobley, for guardian
Richard Croutharmel, for respondent-appellant.
T.D. (respondent) appeals from order entered terminating her
parental rights to her two minor children, D.D.D. and S.L.N
(collectively, the children). We affirm.
Respondent gave birth to D.D.D. in 1997 and S.L.N. in 2004.
On 1 March 2005, Johnston County Department of Social Services
(DSS) became involved after the children were found inside
respondent's home with untreated scabies, rashes, and very little
food or baby supplies.
On 22 March 2005, respondent pled guilty to failing to send
D.D.D. to school in violation of the Compulsory School Attendance
Law. The trial court placed respondent on probation for two yearsand ordered D.D.D. and S.L.N. to be placed into the custody of DSS.
Social Worker Pam Flowers developed a case plan with respondent to
address issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, mental
health, anger management, employment, and housing.
On 25 May 2005, at the adjudication hearing, respondent
stipulated that the children were neglected and dependent. On 3
August 2005, the trial court held a 90-day review hearing, found
that respondent's third child, born on 21 July 2005, had tested
positive for cocaine, and placed the baby with a paternal relative.
The trial court further found that respondent had made little
progress on her Family Services Case Plan to address the issues
which led to the involvement of the [DSS] and relieved DSS of
further efforts towards reunification.
On 31 August 2005, 7 December 2005, and 1 March 2006, the
trial court held permanency planning hearings. The trial court
found: (1) respondent initially started, but had not completed the
Family Pride Parenting classes in April 2005; (2) respondent had
left her independent living arrangement and moved in with her
mother and sister; (3) paternity had not been established for the
children; and (4) the more appropriate permanency plan was adoption
for the children; and (5) terminated visitations between respondent
and the children.
On 4 May 2006, DSS filed petitions to terminate the parental
rights of respondent for neglect pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-1111(a)(1), for willfully leaving the children in foster care or
placement outside of the home for more than twelve months withoutshowing reasonable progress pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111
(a)(2), and for failing to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of
care for the children pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111 (a)(3).
In August 2006, the trial court held another permanency
planning hearing and found respondent had completed her substance
abuse and anger management programs, but had not completed
parenting classes or obtained and maintained stable housing.
On 13 February 2007, the trial court concluded that grounds
for termination of respondent's parental rights existed under N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111 (a)(1) and (a)(2). The trial court further
concluded that it was in the children's best interests to terminate
respondent's parental rights. The trial court also terminated the
parental rights of the putative fathers, who do not appeal.
Respondent argues the trial court erred by: (1) terminating
her parental rights to the children based upon neglect and (2)
concluding as a matter of law that it was in the best interests of
the children to terminate her parental rights.
III. Standard of Review
A trial court may terminate parental rights based upon a
finding that [t]he parent has . . . neglected the juvenile. The
juvenile shall be deemed to be . . . neglected if the court finds
the juvenile to be . . . a neglected juvenile within the meaning of
G.S. 7B-101. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1) (2005). N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-101(15) defines neglected juvenile as: A juvenile who does not receive proper care,
supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's
parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker; or
who has been abandoned; 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; or who has been placed for care or
adoption in violation of law. . . .
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2005). To prove neglect in a
termination case, there must be clear and convincing evidence that:
(1) the juvenile is neglected within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 7B-101(15) and (2) the juvenile has sustained 'some physical,
mental, or emotional impairment . . . or [there is] a substantial
risk of such impairment as a consequence' of the neglect. In re
Reyes, 136 N.C. App. 812, 814-15, 526 S.E.2d 499, 501 (2000)
(quoting In re Safriet, 112 N.C. App. 747, 752, 436 S.E.2d 898,
[A] prior adjudication of neglect may be admitted and
considered by the trial court in ruling upon a later petition to
terminate parental rights on the ground of neglect. In re
Ballard, 311 N.C. 708, 713-14, 319 S.E.2d 227, 231 (1984).
Further, a trial court may also consider evidence of prior
adjudications of neglect of a respondent's other children. See In
re Allred, 122 N.C. App. 561, 564, 471 S.E.2d 84, 86 (1996) ([A]
respondent will not be prejudiced in a properly conducted hearing
by the admission of evidence of the prior abuse of another of
A finding of neglect sufficient to terminate parental rights
must be based on evidence showing neglect at the time of thetermination proceeding. In re Young, 346 N.C. 244, 248, 485
S.E.2d 612, 615 (1997). Termination of parental rights for
neglect may not be based solely on past conditions which no longer
If the child has been removed from the parents' custody before
the termination hearing and DSS presents evidence of prior neglect
including an adjudication of such neglect, then [t]he trial court
must also consider any evidence of changed conditions in light of
the evidence of prior neglect and the probability of a repetition
of neglect. In re Ballard, 311 N.C. at 715, 319 S.E.2d at 232.
Where there is no evidence of neglect at the
time of the termination proceeding . . .
parental rights may nonetheless be terminated
if there is a showing of a past adjudication
of neglect and the trial court finds by clear
and convincing evidence a probability of
repetition of neglect if the juvenile were
returned to [his or] her parents.
In re Reyes, 136 N.C. App. at 814-15, 526 S.E.2d at 501.
IV. Termination of Parental Rights
Respondent first contends the trial court erred in finding and
concluding sufficient grounds existed in order to terminate her
parental rights. We disagree.
The trial court found the children were neglected within the
meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15).
To support its conclusion
that respondent's parental rights should be terminated pursuant to
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1), the trial court entered the
following findings with respect to the children
: 6. On or about March 1, 2005, the JCDSS
substantiated that the family was in need of
voluntary services, and the case was
transferred to the Case Plan and Case
Management Unit to address the identified
neglect issues in the home, to-wit: the minor
children were found to have scabies, for which
they were not receiving proper treatment; that
the home was also observed to have very little
food during various home visits, and supplies,
such as formula for the baby, was minimal at
7. On or about March 22, 2005, [respondent]
appeared in Johnston County Criminal District
Court to address criminal charges relating to
the Compulsory School Attendance Law, as
school personnel reported that [D.D.D.] was
often late for school and would often arrive
to school in a taxi cab without any adult
supervision. At the conclusion of the
criminal case the court found that
[respondent] had failed to work to ensure that
[D.D.D.] attended school on a regular basis as
mandated by law, as [respondent] appeared in
open court and pled guilty. The Honorable
Judge Jacquelyn L. Lee, judge presiding over
the criminal matter, placed [respondent] on
probation for two (2) years due to her failure
to comply with the Compulsory School
Attendance Law and further ordered that the
[children] be placed into the custody of
[DSS]. Judge Lee further ordered that the
children not be placed in the custody of
relatives because the current ongoing risk to
the children precluded efforts to place them
8. Ms. Pam Flowers, social worker with [DSS],
met with [respondent] after the children's
removal and developed a Family Services Case
Plan to address not only the issues of the
removal of the children by Judge Lee but also
the previously identified risk issues. During
that meeting, [respondent] acknowledged using
controlled substances and a history of
domestic violence. The court finds that
[respondent] informed the social worker she
was not a heavy user of controlled substances
before the child was removed but increased her
usage after the children's removal.
[Respondent] further acknowledged that she hadissues of anger management and depression, did
not have stable housing and had not completed
her education, which she would like to do.
[Respondent] further acknowledged that she
needed help with her parenting.
9. [Respondent] was residing with her mother,
stepfather, and adult sister . . . when the
minor children were placed into the custody of
[DSS]. As of March 22, 2005, [DSS] had
custody of [respondent's sister's] four
children because of their nonattendance at
10. The Adjudication hearing was held on or
about May 25, 2005, before the Honorable James
Etheridge, judge presiding. [Respondent] was
present and by [and] through her attorney
consented to an Adjudication of neglect and
dependency. The Disposition hearing was held
on the same date and pursuant to the order of
the Honorable James Etheridge, the child
remained in the custody of [DSS] with
placement in foster care. [Respondent] was
ordered to cooperate with [DSS]. A copy of
each order was submitted to the Court and
accepted into evidence without objection.
That [DSS] developed a Family Services
Case Plan with [respondent] which, as of March
2005, was designed to address the following
A) Domestic Violence;
B) Substance Abuse;
C) Anger Management and Depression;
F) Consistent Housing;
G) Parenting Skills;
. . . .
16. In September of 2005, [respondent], after
completing domestic violence counseling,
became involved in a domestic violence
altercation with her boyfriend . . . .
Although [respondent] initially denied any
dispute, she subsequently acknowledged the
altercation occurred to her social worker, Pam
Flowers. [Respondent] was injured in the
dispute, whereby she received variousbruising, however the court finds from
[respondent]'s testimony that by the time she
informed the social worker, her bruises were
no longer relevant. [Respondent] was
encouraged by her sister and Pam Flowers to
obtain a domestic violence protective order or
to press criminal charges; however,
[respondent] refused to do so and maintained
her relationship with Mr. J, who is the father
of her third child. [Respondent] was residing
at a mobile home in Smithfield in September
2005, but she was never there when the
social worker visited the residence. The
domestic violence altercation did, however,
take place at this residence.
. . . .
26. The court further finds that [respondent]
is currently engaged to Mr. J, who was the
perpetrator of domestic violence on
[respondent] and who is the father of her
third child. [Respondent] acknowledged that
she had maintained her relationship with Mr. J
since the September 2005 incident, having
separated while Mr. J was in prison but
resuming the relationship thereafter. The
court further finds from [respondent]'s
initial testimony that she intends for Mr. J
to be a part of the home in which she wants
her children returned to. Mr. J has not
sought any domestic violence counseling. Mr.
J was recently released from prison; however,
[respondent] does not know why he went to
prison and has not inquired about that
information as she believes it is his business
and not hers.
27. The court further finds that [respondent]
has not been forthcoming with regards to her
relationship with Mr. J. As she begun her
testimony stating that he was her fiancé but
by the end of her testimony, she claimed they
were no longer together and were merely
friends. The court finds that [respondent]'s
testimony with regards to the current status
of her relationship, being merely friends
with Mr. J, is not credible.
. . . .
29. [Respondent] has never completed a
parenting skills program. [Respondent] was
terminated from the Family Pride parenting
program on three separate occasions for lack
of attendance. Although [respondent]
initially claimed transportation was an issue,
she never sought any assistance from nor
notified her social worker that she needed
transportation. [Respondent] further paid
either family members or friends to take her
to work or other places, as her driver's
license has been revoked, however,
[respondent] failed to utilize their
assistance in attending parenting classes.
30. The court further finds that [respondent]
claimed she was not able to attend [parenting
classes] due to conflicts with her work
schedule as well as other programs that she
was attending. The court finds; however, that
prior to the March 1, 2006 hearing,
[respondent] was employed at KFC, however her
hours were drastically cut. [Respondent] did
not utilize that time to complete any of her
programs to resolve the protective issues.
The court further finds that [respondent]
completed her substance abuse and anger
management back in April of 2006 but has not
made any effort since that time to re-enroll
in parenting classes. [Respondent] has
further not initiated any services since April
of 2006. The court further finds that it was
[respondent]'s parenting skills which first
brought the involvement of [DSS] to the
family. To date, [respondent] has not
completed parenting classes and therefore has
not resolved her lack of appropriate parenting
skills which would place the child[ren] at
risk of harm if returned to her care.
. . . .
33. The court finds that [respondent] has
moved on at least five occasions since the
removal of the child[ren]. [Respondent] has
been repeatedly asked to secure appropriate
housing for herself and the minor child[ren]
but has not done so. [Respondent] has been
evicted from the housing she was able to
secure. The mother, who is pregnant, is
currently staying with her fiancé's cousin;
however, does not intend to continue to livethere but has not secured other
accommodations. [Respondent] acknowledges
that she also stays with her mother as well,
whose home has been previously been ruled out
by the court as an appropriate place for the
children. [Respondent]'s sister, whose own
four children have been removed and not
returned to her care also lives with the
maternal grandmother. The court finds that
[respondent's] current living situation
further shows [respondent's] lack of progress
in correcting this issue.
34. The court finds that [respondent] has
failed to demonstrate knowledge gained from
the classes she did attend. Although
[respondent] did not complete her parenting
program, she did attend some classes before
being terminated. [Respondent] is unable to
articulate what she has learned from the few
parenting classes she did attend. When
questioned concerning what she had learned
from the parenting classes, [respondent]
stated that she learned how to be a better
parent, but was clear to point out she didn't
need no help with being a parent (sic).
. . . .
36. The court further finds that [respondent]
has completed anger management classes. The
court finds that [respondent]'s attitude and
demeanor while testifying does not demonstrate
any knowledge gained from attending said anger
37. The court finds that [respondent] fails to
recognize her role or responsibility in her
child[ren]'s current situation, to wit:
placement in foster care. The court finds
that [respondent] believes her only mistake
was not taking her child D.D.D. to school.
[Respondent] fails to recognize, almost two
years later her lack of parenting skills and
the protective issues in her home and has
failed to make improvements in her lifestyle
which might help her appropriately care for
and supervise her children.
38. The Court further finds that the children
were adjudicated as neglected on or about May
25, 2005. The Court, while taking intoconsideration any changed circumstances, finds
that [respondent] has not corrected the issues
which led to the juvenile's placement in
foster care nor subsequent identified risk
issues. The court recognizes that
[respondent] has completed her substance abuse
and anger management classes and commends her
for doing so. The court, taking into
consideration [respondent]'s argument that she
could not do all programs at the same time and
work, finds that she has failed since April of
2006 to attend any classes or programs to
resolve the remaining protection issues. The
court finds, in light of the prior
adjudication of neglect, that there is a
probability of repetition of neglect if the
children were to be returned to the custody of
39. The court finds that the changed
conditions, taken in light of [respondent]'s
history of neglect, do not deflect the high
probability of future neglect if the juveniles
were returned to [respondent]'s care. The
court further finds that [respondent] is not
fit at the time of this Termination of
Parental Rights hearing to parent the minor
children. The court further finds that
[respondent] has willfully failed to perform
her obligations as a parent. The court
further finds that most of the conditions that
occurred and/or existed at the time of the
removal have not been successfully resolved as
of this date.
Respondent assigns error to the above findings of fact, but
does not argue them in her brief. In the absence of any argument,
respondent has abandoned her assignments of error on these issues
and these findings are deemed binding on appeal. See In re P.M.,
169 N.C. App. 423, 424, 610 S.E.2d 403, 404-05 (2005) (The
respondent abandoned factual assignments of error when she failed
to specifically argue in her brief that they were unsupported by
evidence.). The record shows clear, cogent, and convincing
evidence supports the trial court's determination that the childrenhad been subjected to a history of neglect and were likely to be
similarly neglected in the future. We hold that these findings of
fact support the trial court's conclusion that grounds existed to
terminate respondent's parental rights under N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-1111(a)(1). As such, we do not address the other grounds for
termination. See In re Pierce, 67 N.C. App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d
900, 903 (1984) (A finding of one statutory ground is sufficient to
support the termination of parental rights.). This assignment of
error is overruled.
B. Best Interests
Finally, respondent contends the trial court erred by
concluding that the termination of her parental rights was in the
best interests of the children. We disagree.
In determining whether terminating a parent's rights is in a
juvenile's best interest, the court shall consider the following:
(1) The age of the juvenile.
(2) the likelihood of adoption of the
(3) Whether the termination of parental rights
will aid in the accomplishment of the
permanent plan for the juvenile.
(4) The bond between the juvenile and the
(5) The quality of the relationship between
the juvenile and the proposed adoptive parent,
guardian, custodian, or other permanent
(6) Any relevant consideration.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110 (2005). Respondent challenges the trial court's reliance on D.D.D.'s
academic improvement and the lack of a bond between her and D.D.D.
and S.L.N. when the trial court ceased her visitation privileges in
March 2006. To support its determination that it was in the best
interests of the children to terminate respondent's parental
rights, the trial court made the following findings concerning the
48. The Court, after having found that grounds
to terminate parental rights exists, further
finds as a fact, pursuant to N.C.G.S. 7B-1110,
that it is in the children's best interest
that the parental rights of [respondent] and
the putative and any unknown biological father
be terminated as the juveniles are in need of
stability in a safe, protective and nurturing
environment, with proper care and supervision.
The children are adoptable. There are no
identified barriers to adoption. An
identified adoptive placement has been located
for the minor children. The children have a
strong bond with the prospective adoptive
parents. The court finds that the children's
prospective adoptive parents have provided
care for the children since placement in their
home in March of 2005. The children have not
had any contact with the putative fathers and
have not had any contact with [respondent]
since March of 2006. The Court finds that
while there was a bond between the children
and [respondent] prior to ceasing visitation,
the children have not shown any problems or
behaviors since contact with [respondent]
49. The juvenile, [D.D.D.], who is nine years
old, has improved since his placement in
foster care and his needs are being regularly
met. Since D.D.D.'s placement in foster care,
he has been regularly attending school, which
he did not do while in the care of
[respondent]. Since D.D.D. has been regularly
attending school, he is no longer behind
academically and does not require special
classes. The child, S.L.N., now two years
old, is developmentally on target. The courtfurther finds that the juvenile S.L.N. was
only seven months old at the time she was
placed in foster care, where she has
continuously resided since March of 2005. The
court finds it would be in the best interest
of the minor children to proceed with a
permanent plan of adoption, due to the lack of
progress of either of the biological parents
to provide a stable, safe and nurturing home
for said minor children within a reasonable
The trial court's findings are supported by testimony from Pam
Flowers, who was respondent's social worker beginning in March
2005, prior orders of the court, and reflect a rational reasoning
process. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion in its best interests of the children determination in
terminating the parental rights of respondent. This assignment of
error is overruled.
Respondent has failed to show the trial court erred in
concluding a statutory ground exists to terminate her parental
rights based upon neglect or in determining such termination was in
the best interests of the children. The trial court's order
terminating respondent's parental rights to D.D.D. and S.L.N. is
Judges MCGEE and ELMORE concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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