In re H.B.

Citation877 S.E.2d 128
Decision Date16 August 2022
Docket NumberCOA21-760
Parties In the MATTER OF: H.B.
CourtNorth Carolina Court of Appeals

J. Edward Yeager, Jr., for the petitioner-appellee Robeson County Department of Social Services.

Benjamin J. Kull, Raleigh, for the respondent-appellant mother.

North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, by Matthew D. Wunsche, Durham, for the Guardian ad Litem.


¶ 1 Respondent-mother ("mother") appeals from the trial court's order terminating her parental rights with respect to the minor child, "H.B."1 For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court.

I. Background

¶ 2 H.B. was born on 13 March 2015. On the same day, the Robeson County Department of Social Services ("DSS") received a Child Protective Services report ("CPS report") "alleging neglect due to substance abuse." On 30 April 2015, "a staffing decision was made for services not recommended and the case was closed." Two other CPS reports followed throughout the years regarding mother's care for H.B., both of which were swiftly closed via staffing decisions.

¶ 3 On 1 May 2019, DSS received a CPS report "alleging substance abuse" when mother gave birth to H.B.’s younger brother, "A.L.,"2 who was born premature at 27 weeks and whose "meconium tested positive for cocaine and marijuana." DSS also learned that A.L. was transferred "from Scotland Memorial Hospital to North East Hospital in Concord, North Carolina"; that mother did not have her own residence, but lived with her grandmother; that mother "did not have any supplies for" A.L.; that mother had not visited A.L. while he was hospitalized; that, according to mother, "a home assessment could not be completed at her residence because other people living in the residence had issues"; that H.B.’s father was deceased; and that H.B. lived with her paternal grandmother ("Ms. Bullard"). Mother admitted to DSS that "she smoked marijuana, but denied cocaine use." However, mother then admitted to using "cocaine once ‘due to [A.L.’s father] beating and knocking on her[.] " Mother agreed to complete a substance abuse assessment.

¶ 4 On 14 May 2019, an employee with "Premier Behavioral" informed DSS that mother "was receiving services through Premier" and "would be attending substance abuse classes"; however, mother "had not completed a substance abuse assessment at this time due to not having active Medicaid in Robeson County."

¶ 5 On 16 May 2019, DSS made a home visit at Ms. Bullard's home. There, DSS observed H.B.’s paternal great-grandmother, who was also present, "yell for [H.B.] to come from behind the home to meet with [DSS,]" as well as "several children in the yard cussing, playing with cross bows, and throwing bricks."

¶ 6 On 23 May 2019, DSS "attempted to transport [mother] to the child and family team meeting, but [mother] did not make herself available." "While in [mother]’s neighborhood," the DSS social worker assigned to mother's case "saw [mother] walking down a trail and called out to her multiple times, but [mother] ignored worker's attempts and got out of worker's sight."

¶ 7 On 6 June 2019, DSS made another home visit to Ms. Bullard's home. "Ms. Bullard had to yell for [H.B.] outside the residence in order to locate her so [H.B.] could come in the home to visit with [DSS]." DSS learned that H.B. had lived with Ms. Bullard "for much of her life[,]" and that mother "gives Ms. Bullard a little money and sometimes buys [H.B.] some clothes, but not on a consistent basis."

¶ 8 On the same day, mother informed DSS that she had last used cocaine the previous week. Mother was living "in a mobile home with no electricity" at the time. Mother also admitted "to being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and is not currently receiving services for her mental health."

¶ 9 On 8 June 2019, DSS had "a discussion" with Ms. Bullard regarding her "supervision of her grandchildren." Specifically, the DSS social worker assigned to mother's case informed Ms. Bullard that she had "observed the children playing in the road[,]" that there was no adult supervising the children, and that the social worker had once "had to completely stop her car to avoid hitting a small female child," whom she later learned was H.B. herself. On 10 June 2019, DSS learned that mother had "only attended two classes ... at Premier Behavioral and that [she] was not compliant."

¶ 10 DSS filed a juvenile petition on 11 June 2019, alleging that H.B. was neglected, due to her living "in an environment injurious to [her] welfare[,]" and dependent, due to her need of "assistance or placement because [she] has no parent, guardian, or custodian responsible for [her] care or supervision."

The trial court returned an order for nonsecure custody for H.B., as well as A.L., on the same day, scheduling a hearing for continued nonsecure custody for the following day. The trial court rendered orders for the continued placement of H.B. and A.L. in the nonsecure custody of DSS on 12 June 2019 and then again on 26 June 2019, both of which were filed on 15 August 2019.

¶ 11 On 24 July 2019, mother entered into a "Family Services Agreement[,]" in which she "agreed to address housing, employment, parenting, to complete a Mental Health assessment, and a Substance Abuse assessment."

¶ 12 The matters came on for adjudication and disposition on 12 September 2019. On adjudication, after making findings of fact consistent with the above facts, the trial court concluded that H.B. and A.L. were neglected pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) and ordered for both children to remain in the legal custody of DSS pending disposition. On disposition, the trial court found that both H.B. and A.L. had been placed in a licensed foster home. The trial court also found that mother had not made herself available to DSS to develop "a Family Services Case Plan" and that DSS had been unable to contact mother since 20 August 2019. The trial court then stated it relied on and accepted into evidence DSS's "Court Report" and "Family Reunification Assessment," "the North Carolina Permanency Planning Review & Family Services Agreement," and the Guardian ad Litem's "Court Report[.]"

¶ 13 The trial court concluded that it was "in the best interest of the children that their custody remain[ ] with [DSS]" and that DSS "continue to work on efforts of reunification in this matter." Accordingly, the trial court ordered for the legal and physical custody of H.B. and A.L. to remain with DSS, for DSS to continue to work on reunification efforts, and for DSS to "develop a plan" with Ms. Bullard. Both orders on adjudication and disposition were filed on 23 October 2019.

¶ 14 On 25 March 2020, the trial court filed a review hearing order, ordering for H.B. and A.L. to remain in the custody of DSS. Following a hearing held on 14 May 2020, the trial court entered a permanency planning order, providing for the continued custody of H.B. and A.L. with DSS, and setting the primary plan for reunification with a concurrent plan for adoption. The trial court also noted that there was an open investigation at the time involving Ms. Bullard, "due to another child in her care testing positive for cocaine." Pending the results from this investigation, H.B. was to be placed back into Ms. Bullard's home.

¶ 15 Following a 10 June 2020 hearing, the trial court entered another permanency planning order on 1 July 2020, in which it found that H.B. had been adjudicated neglected in 2019, that mother had failed to make herself available to DSS, follow through on her Family Services Case Plan, or visit H.B. and A.L. consistently, that DSS was investigating Ms. Bullard, and that the child in Ms. Bullard's care who had tested positive for cocaine no longer resided with her. Then the trial court ordered, among other things, that H.B. remain in DSS's custody, that H.B. be placed back into Ms. Bullard's home, that mother's visitation with her children be "reduced to once a month" with a 48-hour notice requirement, and that DSS pursue termination of mother's parental rights with respect to A.L.

¶ 16 H.B. was once again removed from Ms. Bullard's home on 8 July 2020, where she was found "outside unsupervised with a black eye, and was also dirty." "A CPS referral was called on Ms. Bullard and Scotland County DSS substantiated injurious environment on Ms. Bullard." On 11 March 2021, mother's parental rights with respect to A.L. were officially terminated.

¶ 17 DSS filed a petition for termination of parental rights with respect to H.B. on 5 April 2021. DSS alleged, in pertinent part, the following:

3. The child, [H.B.,] is currently residing in a licensed foster home, under the supervision, direction and custody of [DSS].
4. The child, [H.B.], is currently in the custody of [DSS], pursuant to a Non-Secure Custody Order entered on June 11, 2019.
5. That on [September 12, 2019],3 the Court adjudicated the child, [H.B.,] as a neglected juvenile in accordance with N.C.G.S. 7B-101 (15).
11. The parental rights of the Respondent mother ... is [sic] subject to termination by the Court pursuant to N.C.G.S[.] 7B-111 in that:
a. The mother has willfully left the minor child in placement outside of the home for more than twelve (12) months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting the conditions that led to the child's removal in that the mother failed to comply with her family services case plan; and
b. The mother has neglected the child within the meaning of N.C.G.S[.] 7B-101, pursuant to the prior adjudication of neglect in the underlying juvenile court file; and
c. The mother has willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the costs of the child's care for a continuous period of six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, although physically and financially able to do so.
13. The Respondent Mother ... is subject to termination of her parental rights pursuant to N.C.G.S. 7B-1111.
15. Termination of Respondent's

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