In re A.M., 380A20

Docket NºNo. 380A20
Citation377 N.C. 220, 856 S.E.2d 801
Case DateApril 23, 2021
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

377 N.C. 220
856 S.E.2d 801

In the MATTER OF: A.M. and E.M.

No. 380A20

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed April 23, 2021

Mary Boyce Wells, Senior County Attorney, for petitioner-appellee Wake County Human Services.

Coats+Bennett, PLLC, by Gavin B. Parsons, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

Dorothy Hairston Mitchell, for respondent-appellant mother.

MORGAN, Justice.

¶ 1 Respondent-mother appeals the order terminating her parental rights to her minor children "Adam," born in October 2011, and "Efia," born in March 2014.1 Because clear, cogent, and convincing evidence supported at least one ground for the termination of respondent-mother's parental rights, and because it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to determine that termination of respondent-mother's parental rights was in the best interests of the children, we affirm the trial court's order.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 2 Respondent-mother, the father, and their son Adam have been involved with Wake County Human Services (WCHS) since 2012. In 2013 and 2014, WCHS received reports which detailed the parents’ instances of substance abuse, as well as respondent-mother's physical confrontations with the childcare providers for Adam and Efia. When Efia was born in 2014, both she and respondent-mother tested positive for marijuana. In April 2015, WCHS received a report that the parents were homeless and that the children's maternal grandparents, who themselves had been the subject of several prior child protective services (CPS) reports regarding the care of Efia, were allowing Adam and Efia to reside with them. The parties agreed that the children would continue to reside with the maternal grandparents pursuant to a safety assessment, and WCHS

856 S.E.2d 804

closed the case in May 2015 with services recommended.

¶ 3 In March 2016, WCHS received a report indicating that respondent-mother was arrested and charged with assault after she "drunkenly confronted the father with a knife while pushing [Efia] in a stroller." Respondent-mother had failed to comply with a medication regimen prescribed for her depression and had expressed thoughts of suicidal ideation. WCHS initiated in-home services for the family and requested that respondent-mother comply with a substance abuse assessment. While respondent-mother initially engaged in residential substance abuse treatment with the children, she was discharged from the program for noncompliance in September 2016. Following the discharge, a maternal relative came forward to provide support for the juveniles, and WCHS closed its case in November 2016.

¶ 4 WCHS received a report on 20 April 2017 that respondent-mother and the maternal grandmother had physically assaulted each other in front of Adam and Efia, prompting respondent-mother and the children to move into a Salvation Army shelter with the assistance of CPS. Shortly thereafter, respondent-mother and the father participated in another affray which occurred in front of the children. This fracas resulted in respondent-mother's arrest. While respondent-mother was incarcerated, the children resided with the father for a few days before returning to their maternal grandmother's home.

¶ 5 Following respondent-mother's release from incarceration, a social worker met with respondent-mother and the children at the home of the maternal grandmother. Respondent-mother was "visibly impaired and smelled of alcohol," and "accused the [maternal] grandmother of substance abuse" before producing drug paraphernalia from the maternal grandmother's cigarette pack. WCHS removed the juveniles from the home, as efforts to consult with the parents concerning a proper familial placement for the children were unsuccessful. WCHS filed juvenile petitions on 19 June 2017 alleging that the children were neglected juveniles, and WCHS subsequently filed an amended juvenile petition regarding both children on 28 June 2017. The trial court entered orders granting nonsecure custody of the children to WCHS on 19 June 2017 pursuant to the first juvenile petitions and authorizing WCHS to place the children in a licensed foster care home.

¶ 6 On 13 September 2017, respondent-mother and the father consented to an adjudication that the children were "neglected juveniles" as defined by N.C.G.S. § 7B-101(15). In its consent order on adjudication and disposition which was issued on the same date as the adjudication, the trial court allowed WCHS to retain legal custody of the children and ordered respondent-mother to: (1) follow all recommendations of a substance abuse assessment; (2) refrain from the use of illegal or impairing substances and submit to random drug screens; (3) obtain and maintain housing sufficient for herself and her children that is free of transient household members and substance abuse, and provide proof of such housing; (4) obtain and maintain legal income sufficient to meet her needs and the needs of her children, and provide proof of such income to WCHS on at least a monthly basis; (5) engage in a domestic violence assessment through Interact and follow all recommendations; (6) complete a psychological evaluation and follow all recommendations; (7) follow the terms of her probation and refrain from further illegal activity; (8) comply with a visitation agreement during her visits with the children; and (9) maintain regular contact with the social worker at WCHS, notifying WCHS of any change in situation or circumstances within five business days. The trial court further ordered WCHS to continue to make reasonable efforts to eliminate the need for placement of the children outside of the home.

¶ 7 Following an April 2018 permanency planning hearing, the trial court entered a 24 May 2018 order in which it found that respondent-mother and the father had been incarcerated from February to mid-March 2018. The trial court acknowledged that respondent-mother was pregnant at the time of the hearing, and determined that after respondent-mother and the father's respective releases from incarceration, the parents were residing together in a boarding house that was not appropriate for the children. Respondent-mother

856 S.E.2d 805

had been diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder and severe cannabis use disorder in early remission, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. While respondent-mother denied using marijuana since her release from incarceration and upon learning that she was pregnant, the trial court noted that she had tested positive for marijuana twice in April 2018 and had admitted to consuming alcohol since her release from jail. The trial court established that "[n]either parent has consistently demonstrated a willingness to address the chronic substance abuse and domestic violence that has dominated their family for quite some time." As for the children's current placements, the trial court found that the placements were appropriate and were meeting the needs of the juveniles. The tribunal also found that the children had bonded with their caregivers, who were willing to provide long-term care for both children. The trial court concluded that a primary plan of adoption with a secondary plan of reunification would serve the children's best interests.

¶ 8 On 3 July 2018, WCHS filed a motion to terminate the parental rights of respondent-mother and the father to the children, asserting, under N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), and (3), the grounds of (1) neglect, (2) failure to show reasonable progress in correcting the conditions which initially led to the removal of the children from the home, and (3) willfully failing to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the children despite the ability to do so.

¶ 9 Following an April 2019 permanency planning hearing, the trial court entered a 2 May 2019 order in which it found that respondent-mother had acquired a residence which was structurally sufficient for a child. However, a GAL volunteer visiting the residence observed a person in the living room who was visibly impaired to the point of unconsciousness, and the GAL volunteer likewise noticed that the parents also appeared to be impaired. Nevertheless, the family exhibited a strong bond during visitations with the children, and the parents exhibited an ability to provide appropriate care for the juveniles for short periods of time in structured, supervised settings. The trial court changed the primary plan for the children from adoption to guardianship with the secondary plan remaining reunification.

¶ 10 In a 19 September 2019 order which was entered following a July 2019 permanency planning hearing, the trial court found that respondent-mother maintained adequate housing, did not receive consistent income, attended weekly therapy sessions and met with a psychiatrist to receive treatment for her mental health issues, and missed three random drug screens in March and May 2019. On 14 April 2019, law enforcement officers responded twice to reports of domestic violence at respondent-mother's residence, which resulted in law enforcement officers removing the father from the home. The trial court also found that "any progress made by either parent [wa]s generally short-lived. Neither parent ha[d] made adequate progress in a reasonable period of time to alleviate the conditions that led to the children's initial removal from the...

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11 cases
  • In re J.R.F., 36A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • February 11, 2022
    ...terminating the parental rights of the respondent-parent is in the child's best interests. N.C.G.S. § 7B-1110(a) [(2019)]. In re A.M. , 377 N.C. 220, 2021-NCSC-42, ¶ 13, 856 S.E.2d 801. In reviewing a trial court's actions at the adjudicatory stage, this Court must "determine whether the fi......
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    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • December 20, 2022 not manifestly unsupported by reason or is so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." In re A.M., 377 N.C. 220, 226, 2021-NCSC-42 ¶ 18 (cleaned up). ¶ 40 Here, in addition to the supported findings regarding the children's strained relationship with Resp......
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    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 23, 2021
    ...findings that when combined with the facts discussed above are more than sufficient to demonstrate a likelihood of future neglect.856 S.E.2d 801 ¶ 17 Starting first with evidence of past neglect, we note that respondent-mother does not challenge any of the trial court's findings concerning ......
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    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • February 11, 2022
    ...juvenile's best interests. We review a trial court's best interests determination for an abuse of discretion. 867 S.E.2d 885 In re A.M. , 377 N.C. 220, 2021-NCSC-42, ¶ 18, 856 S.E.2d 801. Under such review, a trial court's decision will remain undisturbed unless we determine that it is "man......
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