Appeal by respondent-mother from order entered 14 February
2007 by Judge Monica Bousman in Wake County District Court. Heard
in the Court of Appeals on 23 July 2007.
Peter Wood, for respondent-appellant.
Albert J. Singer, for petitioner-appellee.
Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman, L.L.P., by Ceclia E.
Rutherford, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.
Respondent-mother I.B. appeals from the district court's order
terminating her parental rights to her twin minor children, La.H.
and Le.H. The order also terminated the parental rights of the
children's father, L.H., Jr., who is not a party to this appeal.
La.H. and Le.H. were born prematurely in October, 2005. On 20
February 2006, the Wake County Human Services (WCHS) obtained non-
secure custody of the children and placed them together in a foster
home after filing petitions alleging that they were neglected and
dependent juveniles. In the petitions, WCHS claimed that it had
been unable to locate the children for several weeks, and that the
children were in need of medical care due to their premature births
and low birth weights. The petitions claimed that both parents hadunresolved substance abuse problems and were living from pillar to
post in various homes in Wake and Granville Counties. WCHS
further alleged that respondent-father had asked WCHS for
assistance in caring for the children, and that respondent-mother's
whereabouts were unknown.
The children were examined at Duke Children's Primary Care on
22 February 2006. Both children were underweight and suffering
from severe diaper rash. La.H. was found to have an umbilical
hernia which required monitoring. Le.H. was treated with
antibiotics for a serious infection . . . mostly likely due to
The court appointed counsel to represent respondent-mother at
the seven-day hearing held 22 February 2006, and entered an order
continuing the children in the non-secure custody of WCHS on 6
Following a hearing held 22 March 2006, the district court
adjudicated the minor children to be neglected and dependent, in
the WCHS petition. The court found that the twins were premature,
low birth-weight infants and had been denied necessary medical care
by their parents. The court found that respondent-mother's
whereabouts had been determined after she was arrested and jailed
for shoplifting in Wake County. Although respondent-mother had
been released from jail on 10 March 2006, the WCHS social worker
had been unable to contact her or respondent-father despite her
diligent efforts to do so. The court found that respondent-mother
lacked a stable residence and had a history of incarcerations andchronic cocaine, heroin, and marijuana abuse. The court further
found that respondent-mother had seven other children, none of whom
lived with her, and that her parental rights to at least three of
the children had been terminated. Noting that La.H. and Le.H. were
in need of additional medical care due to their premature births,
the court ceased reunification efforts with respondent-mother,
finding that such efforts would be futile and inconsistent with
[the children's] health, safety and need for a safe, permanent
home. It ordered respondent-mother to contact the WCHS social
worker, enter into a case plan, and comply with its conditions if
she wished to pursue reunification with her infant twins. The
court established a placement plan of reunification with the
father, with a concurrent plan of adoption.
The district court held a permanency planning hearing on 19
April 2006. Respondent-mother was served with notice of the
hearing but did not attend. In an order entered 1 May 2006, the
court adopted a permanent placement plan of reunification with the
father, and a concurrent plan of adoption. The court found that
respondent-mother met with WCHS, submitted a negative drug screen,
and developed a case plan on 4 April 2006. Although she had
scheduled an appointment for substance abuse treatment, she had not
contacted her social worker since 6 April 2006. To the extent she
desired reunification with the children, respondent-mother was
ordered to do the following: (1) obtain a psychological evaluation
and follow its recommendations; (2) initiate and maintain regular
contact with WCHS; (3) successfully complete substance abusetreatment, submit to random drug screens, and abstain from drug
use; (4) obtain stable employment and safe, stable housing suitable
for the children; (5) pay child support; and (6) attend biweekly
In a review order entered 29 May 2006, the court found that
respondent-mother had attended her second visitation with the
children on 19 April 2006. The court noted that respondent-mother
had spent three weeks in jail after violating her probation.
On 10 August 2006, the court ceased reunification efforts with
respondent-father and changed the children's permanent placement
plan to adoption. The order included findings that neither parent
had visited the children since 19 April 2006, and that respondent-
mother had been incarcerated since the last hearing, and [was] in
Wake County Jail on new charges of larceny and simple assault.
WCHS filed a motion to terminate respondents' parental rights
on 31 October 2006. As grounds for termination of respondent-
mother's rights, the motion asserted: (1) each parent had neglected
the children, and there was a probability of future neglect if the
children were returned to their care; (2) the children were
dependent because each parent lacked the capacity to provide proper
care and was likely to remain incapable of providing proper care
for the foreseeable future; and (3) respondent-mother's parental
rights to other children had been terminated involuntarily and she
was unable or unwilling to establish a safe home for La.H. and
Le.H. The court held a hearing on WCHS's motion on 23 January 2007.
WCHS social worker LeAnn Watson recounted the circumstances that
led to the twins' adjudication as neglected and dependent
juveniles, as well as the parents' subsequent non-compliance with
their respective case plans. Respondent-mother testified and
called as a witness Morocco Abdul-Haqq, who had been working with
her since 27 December 2006 through a community support organization
called United Youth Care. Based on the evidence at adjudication,
the court found grounds to terminate respondent-mother's parental
rights under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1) and (9). At
disposition, the court reviewed the Guardian ad Litem's report and
received additional testimony from the WCHS social worker and
respondent-mother. Upon further findings consistent with the
Guardian ad Litem's report, the court concluded that termination of
respondents' parental rights served the best interests of the
children by facilitating their adoption. Respondent-mother filed
timely notice of appeal from the termination order.
In her first argument on appeal, respondent-mother challenges
six of the court's findings of fact and its conclusions of law that
grounds for termination existed under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
1111(a)(1) and (9). She contends that evidence did not show a
likelihood that she would neglect the children in the future, as
required to support termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
1111(a)(1), or that she was currently unable or unwilling to
establish a safe home for the children, as required to support
termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(9).
A proceeding for termination of parental rights is conducted
in two stages. At the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner has the
burden of proving grounds for termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-1111(a) by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.
Stat. § 7B-1109(f) (2005). Once one or more of the grounds for
termination are established, the trial court must proceed to the
dispositional stage where the best interests of the child are
considered. In re Locklear, 151 N.C. App. 573, 575, 566 S.E.2d
165, 166 (2002).
In reviewing the adjudication of grounds for termination under
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a), we must determine whether the
district court's findings of fact are supported by the evidence and
whether the court's findings, in turn, support its conclusions of
law. In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 291, 536 S.E.2d 838, 840
(2000). Because the district court sits as trier of fact, its
findings of fact are conclusive on appeal if they are supported by
'ample, competent evidence,' even if there is evidence to the
contrary. In re J.M.W., __ N.C. App. __, __, 635 S.E.2d 916, 919
(2006) (quoting In re Williamson, 91 N.C. App. 668, 674, 373 S.E.2d
317, 320 (1988)). Moreover, any findings which are not assigned as
error are deemed to be supported by competent evidence and [are]
binding on appeal. Koufman v. Koufman, 330 N.C. 93, 97, 408
S.E.2d 729, 731 (1991). We review the court's conclusions of law
de novo. In re D.H., C.H., B.M, C.H. III, 177 N.C. App. 700, 703,
629 S.E.2d 920, 922 (2006) (citation omitted). Before addressing the findings challenged by respondent-
mother, we note the following uncontested findings entered by the
court in support of its adjudications under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
9. That at the time of the filing of the
petition alleging neglect in this matter,
[WCHS] had been looking for the children for
several weeks due to the concerns of the
medical professionals at Duke Hospital for the
physical safety of the twins. The twins were
born prematurely and with a low birth weight
and had not been brought back to the Pediatric
Unit for necessary follow up care.
10. That the mother and father were living
from pillar to post and had no stable home at
the time of the filing of the petition. When
the children were living at the home of the
mother's daughter, [respondent-mother]
disappeared for several days . . . .
11. The parents had been moving from house to
house in Granville and Wake County.
[Respondent-]mother was finally located when
she was arrested for shoplifting and placed in
Wake County Jail. She was released on March
12. That the mother has had a long history of
abuse of cocaine, heroin and marijuana use.
22. That the mother had no contact with the
social worker from May 16, 2006 until
September 26, 2006, when the mother was
released from Women's Prison.
These facts fully support a finding that respondent-mother had not
shown that she had obtained stable housing after more than eleven
months of WCHS involvement in her case. Moreover, this finding was
fully supported by the evidence at the hearing. WCHS social worker
LeAnn Watson testified that from February until late September,
2006, respondent-mother was either incarcerated or living with
various people at [v]arious addresses. For long periods
during this time, Watson was unable to locate or contact
respondent-mother. Calls to the various phone numbers provided
by respondent-mother were unavailing. Moreover, although
respondent-mother reported moving in with her mother after being
released from jail in late September, 2006, she offered no evidence
of the conditions of her mother's house or its suitability for thechildren. She testified that her own mother was crippled over
and required care, and that she also shared the house with
respondent-mother's brother, who was blind and in need of
assistance. Respondent-mother had never obtained independent
housing and testified that she was trying to save money to get
into my own house near her mother. Her own witness, Abdul-Haqq,
told the court that she was trying to get a trailer or something
like that to place on her mother's property. At the time of the
hearing, respondent-mother had additional criminal charges pending
for acts she committed in December, 2006.
Respondent-mother also challenges the finding that she
not completed a psychological evaluation as ordered by the Court
though an appointment was made for this by the social worker. We
find no merit to her claim. Watson testified that respondent-
mother was ordered as part of her case plan to have a sociological
evaluation [and] follow-up with any recommendations of treatment,
but failed to do so. Watson testified that she scheduled two
appointments for respondent-mother's evaluation in the spring and
summer but was unable to get in contact with her. Asked if
respondent-mother had a mental impairment that would preclude her
from parenting the children, Watson reiterated that respondent-
mother had not had the sociological evaluation that might answer
that question. Although Abdul-Haqq testified that his organization
had conducted a brief assessment of respondent-mother and was
scheduling a full sociological evaluation for her, the recordplainly shows her failure to complete the court-ordered evaluation
prescribed by her case plan.
Respondent-mother next objects to the following finding as
unsupported by the evidence at the hearing:
23. That the mother, whose rights have been
terminated in regard to 6 of her children, has
not demonstrated that she has the ability or
willingness to establish a safe home.
While acknowledging her past behavior, she accuses the court of
ignoring her uncontradicted evidence that she had a plan to
provide her children a safe home at the time of the termination
We again find no merit to this claim. The court heard
evidence of respondent-mother's long history of drug abuse and
instability. Having lost her parental rights to six prior
children, respondent-mother failed to obtain necessary medical care
for her prematurely-born twins and essentially disappeared. After
her arrest for shoplifting in March, 2006, respondent-mother failed
to maintain contact with WCHS, to provide WCHS with a fixed address
or other means to contact her, or otherwise to comply with her case
plan. Respondent-mother was arrested and incarcerated on multiple
occasions since losing custody of her children in February, 2006.
Moreover, having been ordered by the court to attend at least bi-
weekly visitations, she visited the children on just two occasions
between February and October, 2006. What limited progress
respondent-mother claimed as of 22 January 2007 by no means
demonstrated her ability to provide a safe, stable home for two
infant children. While WCHS bore the affirmative burden to proveher inability or unwillingness to provide a safe home under N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(9), we believe the evidence supported the
court's finding of the paucity of respondent-mother's own proffer
on this issue. See
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(f) (2005).
We also overrule respondent-mother's assignment of error to
the finding that she provided no evidence of maintaining a
sufficient income to support the children. Respondent-mother
testified that she had been working at Waffle House in Butner since
6 October 2006. However, she did not tender documentation of her
income to WCHS or the court. Moreover, she had yet to pay any
child support for the children as ordered by the court on 1 May
2006. She was living with her mother and was unable to afford
moving into her own home.
Respondent-mother also challenges the finding that she
offered no sufficient evidence that she has been clean of illegal
substances. Watson testified that respondent-mother admitted to
using marijuana while pregnant with Le.H. and La.H. After entering
into her case plan with WCHS, she submitted two negative drug
screens on 21 March 2006 and 3 April 2006, but then refused to
submit screens on 19 April 2006 and 16 May 2006. WCHS views such
refusals as positive screens. Although respondent-mother testified
that she missed only one drug screen and had been clean now for
two years[,] the court was entitled to credit Watson's testimony
to the contrary. See In re Gleisner
, 141 N.C. App. 475, 480, 539
S.E.2d 362, 365 (2000). After having no contact with WCHS from 17
May 2006 until 26 September 2006, respondent-mother contacted WCHSin October, 2006 and sought to resume visitations. She submitted
three negative drug screens thereafter. Abdul-Haqq testified that
respondent-mother began attending semi-weekly AA and NA meetings at
some point after 27 December 2006. Given respondent-mother's
documented history of chronic substance abuse, her two refusals to
submit screens followed by several months without testing were
sufficient grounds for the court's finding, despite her subsequent
brief interval of sobriety.
The sixth and final adjudicatory finding to which respondent-
mother assigns error is the following:
32. That the mother contributed [to] the
neglect of the children . . . . In light of
her history of substance abuse, instability,
inconsistent parenting and her failure to
comply with the orders of this court and
display a commitment to provide a safe home
for her children from . . . February, 2006, up
until the time this motion to terminate
parental rights was filed in October, 2006, it
is likely that the neglect would continue if
the children were placed in her care.
In her brief to this Court, respondent-mother acknowledges her
prior neglect of the minor children, as well as her unstable
behavior from February to October of 2006. She argues, however,
that WCHS adduced no evidence of instability or substance abuse at
the time of the termination hearing, or of a likelihood of future
neglect if the children were returned to her. Rather, she
contends, [a]ll evidence of her present actions contradicted [the
Though cast by the court as a finding of fact, a determination
of neglect or the likelihood of future neglect requires theapplication of . . . legal principles . . . and is therefore a
conclusion of law. In re Helms
, 127 N.C. App. 505, 510, 491
S.E.2d 672, 676 (1997). Here, the court entered this finding in
support of its more generic legal conclusion -- also assigned as
error by respondent-mother -- [t]hat there are sufficient facts to
warrant a determination by clear, cogent and convincing evidence
that grounds exist for termination of the parental rights of . . .
the mother and father of the minor children pursuant to N.C.[Gen.
Stat. §] 7B[-]1111(a)(1). Accordingly, we treat the purported
finding as a conclusion of law. Id.
As noted above, review of a
trial court's conclusions of law is limited to whether they are
supported by the findings of fact. Id.
at 511, 491 S.E.2d at 676
(citing In re Montgomery
, 311 N.C. 101, 111, 316 S.E.2d 246, 253
A court may terminate a respondent's parental rights under
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1) upon a finding that the parent has
neglected the child within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-
101(15) (2005). Subsection 7B-101(15) defines a neglected
juvenile, inter alia
, as follows:
A juvenile who does not receive proper care,
supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's
parent . . .; 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). Moreover, to constitute
actionable neglect under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1), there
[must] be some physical, mental, or emotional impairment of the
juvenile or a substantial risk of such impairment as a consequenceof the failure to provide proper care, supervision, or discipline.
In re Safriet
, 112 N.C. App. 747, 752, 436 S.E.2d 898, 901-02
(1993) (citations and quotations omitted). In determining whether
a juvenile is a neglected juvenile, it is relevant whether that
juvenile . . . lives in a home where another juvenile has been
subjected to abuse or neglect by an adult who regularly lives in
the home. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2005).
To establish grounds for termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-1111(a)(1), the evidence must show neglect by the parent at the
time of the termination proceeding. In re Young
, 346 N.C. 244,
248, 485 S.E.2d 612, 615 (1997) (citation omitted). Where the
child has been removed from the parent's home prior to the hearing,
[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.
708, 715, 319 S.E.2d 227, 232 (1984) (citation omitted). It is
well established that parental rights may . . . 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. 812, 815, 526 S.E.2d 499, 501
(2000) (citation omitted). Such an adjudication must of necessity
be predictive in nature, as the trial court must assess whether
there is a substantial risk of future abuse or neglect of a child
based on the historical facts of the case. In re McLean
, 135 N.C.
App. 387, 396, 521 S.E.2d 121, 127 (1999). As found by the court, respondent-mother failed to obtain
necessary medical care for her infant twins, La.H. and Le.H.,
disappeared from the home, and could not be located for several
weeks until she was arrested for shoplifting. After the twins were
adjudicated neglected and dependent, respondent-mother failed to
comply with her case plan and had no contact with WCHS for months
at a time. She twice refused to submit to drug screens, missed two
appointments for her psychological evaluation, paid no child
support, and attended just two visitations in seven months.
Respondent-mother was arrested and jailed on three occasions before
WCHS moved for termination of her parental rights on 31 October
2006. The court's findings recognize the positive steps taken by
respondent-mother following her release from jail on 26 September
2006. She moved into her mother's house and obtained employment.
She submitted clean drug screens and had three additional
visitations with the children. On 27 December 2006, she contacted
a private organization to obtain social services and reported
attending AA and NA meetings. However, at the time of the
termination hearing, she had yet to pay child support, establish
her own residence, or obtain a full sociological evaluation.
faced additional criminal charges following her arrest in December,
We believe that the court's findings support its conclusion
that respondent-mother's actions were consistent with a
longstanding pattern of behavior that created a likelihood of
future neglect if La.H and Le.H were returned to her care. See Inre E.N.S.
, 164 N.C. App. 146, 151, 595 S.E.2d 167, 170 (2004)
(affirming trial court's prediction of future neglect based on the
mother's actions before the children were born)
. The court took
notice of its own 17 November 2003 order in 03 J 477, terminating
respondent-mother's parental rights to L.A.H., L.M.B., and L.D.B.
The 2003 order described respondent-mother's history of unstable
housing, financial instability, and a chronic substance abuse
problem that has resulted in the birth of cocaine positive
children, has resulted in her inability to properly parent her
children and has resulted in her inability to provide her children
with stability and adequate resources . . . . Moreover, the order
reflected respondent-mother's initial period of compliance with her
case plan after WCHS took custody of the children in March, 2002.
She attended regular visitations and submitted to in-patient
substance abuse treatment followed by attendance at AA and NA
meetings. After two of the three children were placed back into
her home, however, respondent-mother ceased cooperation with WCHS
and resumed her unstable behavior and apparent substance abuse. We
note that Watson served as the social worker in 03 J 477, and
testified that respondent-mother had displayed the same problems
in the earlier case.
Because the district court properly found grounds for
termination based on neglect under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1),
we need not address the second ground found by the court under N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(9). In re Howell
, 161 N.C. App. 650, 656,589 S.E.2d 157, 160-61 (2003) (citing In re Taylor
, 97 N.C. App.
57, 64, 387 S.E.2d 230, 233-34 (1990)).
In her second argument on appeal, respondent-mother claims
that the district court erred at the dispositional stage of the
proceedings by choosing to terminate her parental rights. At
disposition, the court is required to determine whether
terminating the parent's rights is in the juvenile's best interest
in view of 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(a) (2005). Once the court has
adjudicated grounds for termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-
1109, -1111(a), [t]he decision to terminate parental rights is
vested within the sound discretion of the trial judge and will not
be overturned on appeal absent a showing that the judge['s] actions
were manifestly unsupported by reason. In re J.A.A. & S.A.A.
N.C. App. 66, 75, 623 S.E.2d 45, 51 (2005) (citation omitted).
Respondent-mother assigns error to several of the court's
dispositional findings in a single assignment of error. Althoughshe quotes the findings in her brief, she makes no attempt to
reckon with the evidence and presents no argument against any
particular finding. Accordingly, she has abandoned this assignment
of error. See
N.C.R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (2007).
Respondent-mother challenges the court's conclusion that
termination of her parental rights was in the best interests of
La.H. and Le.H. In reaching this conclusion, the court made
findings consistent with the Guardian ad Litem's report and
Watson's testimony that the children were fifteen months old, and
had developed a strong bond with the foster parents with whom
they had lived since February, 2006. The court found that the
children were doing well physically and developmentally in their
placement, and that the foster parents had shown a commitment to
adopting the children. Moreover, the foster parents had shown a
willingness to maintain contact between the minor children and
[their] relatives, including respondent-mother, and had made
attempts to establish contacts between the children and their
siblings in other placements. The court further found [t]hat the
children do not have a strong bond with their mother or father and
were highly adoptable. It noted that termination of the parents'
rights was necessary to effectuate the permanent placement plan.
Based on these findings, as well as the recommendations of Watson
and the Guardian ad Litem, the court properly concluded that the
twins' best interests would be served by termination of both
respondents' parental rights.
Respondent-mother separately contends that the court abused
its discretion in terminating her parental rights under N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-1110. Having upheld the court's evaluation of the
children's best interests, and reviewed respondent-mother's long
history of substance abuse, instability, and child neglect, we find
no abuse of discretion by the court.
Judges MCGEE and TYSON concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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