In re D.A.A.R., 224A20

Citation857 S.E.2d 295, 377 N.C. 258
Case DateApril 23, 2021
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

377 N.C. 258
857 S.E.2d 295

In the MATTER OF: D.A.A.R., S.A.L.R.

No. 224A20

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed April 23, 2021

Mercedes O. Chut, Greensboro, for petitioner-appellee Guilford County Department of Health & Human Services.

Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton LLP, by Sean S. Planchard, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

Sean P. Vitrano, Wake Forest, for respondent-appellant mother.

ERVIN, Justice.

¶ 1 Respondent-mother Amanda R. appeals from the trial court's order terminating her parental rights in D.A.A.R.,1 a minor child born in May 2013.2 After careful consideration of respondent-mother's challenges to the trial court's termination order in light of the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court's order should be reversed.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 2 On 26 July 2017, the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services filed juvenile petitions alleging that Daniel and Sara were neglected and dependent juveniles and obtained the entry of orders taking them into nonsecure custody. The process that led to the filing of these juvenile petitions began when DHHS received a child protective services report on 7 April 2017 describing an incident of domestic violence between the parents during which the father held a gun to respondent-mother's head. In the course of the ensuing investigation, DHHS learned of substance abuse by both parents, having been told, among other things, that respondent-mother "was selling her Suboxone medication and buying urine to pass drug screens in order to receive more Suboxone." In addition, the parents failed to attend scheduled meetings with DHHS personnel and vacated their residence without informing DHHS that they intended to do so. On 30 May 2017, the father was charged with the commission of numerous felonies, including robbery with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon.3

¶ 3 After leaving Sara in the care of a family friend for what was supposed to be a single night, respondent-mother was "nowhere to be found" when the friend attempted

857 S.E.2d 298

to return Sara to her on the following day. In addition, respondent-mother was reported to be homeless and living in a hotel. However, respondent-mother was ultimately found with Daniel in the home of a former neighbor after DHHS received a report that respondent-mother and the former neighbor had been engaging in substance abuse in Daniel's presence. On 24 July 2017, respondent-mother was arrested and taken into custody by officers of the High Point Police Department at the neighbor's residence. Although respondent-mother agreed to place Daniel with her grandmother pending her release from the Guilford County Detention Center and to participate in a child and family team meeting with DHHS, she failed to attend the child and family team meeting, which had been scheduled for 26 July 2017.

¶ 4 After a hearing held on 16 November 2017 for the purpose of considering the issues raised by the neglect and dependency petitions, Judge Angela C. Foster entered an order on 8 January 2018 finding that Daniel and Sara were neglected and dependent juveniles and continued them in DHHS custody. Judge Foster's order determined that the barriers to the children's reunification with the parents included their "volatile relationship and history of domestic violence," their untreated "mental health and substance abuse issues," and the lack of stable housing that was suitable for them and the children. Judge Foster noted that, even though respondent-mother had been participating in weekly visitation sessions with the children, she had not attended the adjudication hearing, with her current location being unknown. As a result, Judge Foster ordered respondent-mother to enter into a service agreement with DHHS "and [to] begin complying with the terms and conditions of that agreement, if she desires reunification." Respondent-mother was authorized to have one hour of supervised visitation with the children each week.

¶ 5 Respondent-mother finally entered into a family services agreement with DHHS on 26 January 2018. The family services agreement between DHHS and respondent-mother was intended to address issues relating to substance abuse; domestic violence; emotional and mental health; housing, environmental, and basic physical needs; and parenting skills.

¶ 6 Following a hearing held on 8 February 2018, Judge Foster entered a permanency planning order on 26 March 2018 in which she established a primary permanent plan for the children of reunification with the parents and a secondary plan of adoption. After a hearing held on 8 March 2018, Judge Foster authorized Daniel and Sara to visit their maternal aunt and uncle in another state4 pending final approval of the aunt and uncle's residence pursuant to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. The children arrived at their aunt and uncle's residence on 30 March 2018 and were allowed to remain in this out-of-state placement after DHHS presented the approved ICPC home study to Judge Foster on 5 April 2018.

¶ 7 At the next permanency planning hearing, which was held on 3 May 2018, DHHS advised Judge Foster that it had not heard from respondent-mother since the February hearing and that her current location remained a mystery. In light of respondent-mother's failure to make any progress toward satisfying the requirements of her family services plan and the father's apparent lack of interest in the children, Judge Foster entered an order on 2 July 2018 in which she changed the primary permanent plan for the children to one of adoption, with a secondary plan of reunification. In addition, Judge Foster suspended respondent-mother's visitation with the children and directed DHHS to initiate termination of parental rights proceedings against respondents within the next sixty days.

¶ 8 On 4 May 2018, respondent-mother entered a six-month residential substance abuse treatment program in the state in which the children were living with their

857 S.E.2d 299

maternal aunt and uncle. Sara was returned to North Carolina on 25 June 2018 and lived in an emergency shelter on a temporary basis. In a consent order entered on 25 July 2018, Judge Foster allowed respondent-mother to have fifteen minutes of supervised telephone contact with Sara twice each week. On 8 August 2018, Sara was placed with her maternal great aunt and uncle in Rowan County, with Daniel having joined Sara in this placement on 9 August 2018. Throughout this period of time, respondent-mother remained in the residential substance abuse treatment program which she had entered on 4 May 2018.

¶ 9 At the next permanency planning hearing, which was held on 20 September 2018, respondent-mother reported that she was scheduled to complete in-patient substance abuse treatment on 30 October 2018, had been attending weekly parenting classes and individual and group therapy, and intended to take a domestic violence education course. In a permanency planning order entered on 21 November 2018, Judge Foster found that, while respondent-mother had "begun to maintain regular contact with [DHHS,]" she had yet to begin paying child support relating to the children. In light of her progress in substance abuse treatment, respondent-mother asked Judge Foster to stay the initiation of termination of parental rights proceedings. In view of respondent-mother's delay in entering into a family services agreement with DHHS and a determination that respondent-mother "ha[d] not begun to fully engage with the components," Judge Foster denied respondent-mother's request and determined that "[i]t is in the best interest of the juveniles that termination of parental rights be pursued by the Department against the parents[.]"

¶ 10 On 29 January 2019, respondent-mother filed motions seeking to have her visitation rights with Daniel and Sara reinstated and to have the initiation of the termination of the parental rights proceeding stayed. In support of this motion, respondent-mother provided information concerning her progress toward satisfying the conditions of her family services agreement, which included the completion of a six-month inpatient substance abuse rehabilitation program; the completion of a sixty-day intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program; the submission of negative drug screens on a consistent basis since 26 June 2018; her ongoing attendance in substance abuse intensive outpatient treatment; the completion of a four-hour domestic violence course; the completion of parenting classes; and the leasing of a rent-subsidized residence that was suitable for the children as of 20 November 2018. Respondent-mother asserted that she had "maintained her sobriety since April 2018" and had demonstrated overall "stability for several months" and claimed that her supervised phone calls with Sara "appear to be going well."

¶ 11 On 30 April 2019, before respondent-mother's motions had been heard and decided, DHHS filed a petition seeking to have the parents’ parental rights in Daniel and Sara terminated. According to the allegations set out in the termination petition, respondent-mother's parental rights in the children were subject to termination on the basis of neglect, N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), and willfully leaving the children in a placement outside the home for more than twelve months...

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2 cases
  • In re M.T., COA21-755
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • September 6, 2022
    ...finding’ and a ‘conclusion’ of law," we treat discussions of the grounds for termination as conclusions of law. See In re D.A.A.R. , 377 N.C. 258, 2021-NCSC-45, ¶ 38, 857 S.E.2d 295 (applying conclusion of law standard of review to a ground for termination). The evidence of neglect and the ......
  • In re M.T., COA21-755
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • September 6, 2022
    ...finding' and a 'conclusion' of law," we treat discussions of the grounds for termination as conclusions of law. See In re D.A.A.R., 377 N.C. 258, 2021-NCSC-45, ¶ 38 (applying conclusion of law standard of review to a ground for termination). The evidence of neglect and the likelihood of rep......

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