In re A.E., 253A20

Docket NºNo. 253A20
Citation379 N.C. 177, 864 S.E.2d 487
Case DateNovember 05, 2021
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

379 N.C. 177
864 S.E.2d 487

In the MATTER OF: A.E., J.V., E.V., A.V.

No. 253A20

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed November 5, 2021

Jennifer Oakley Michaud, for petitioner-appellee Stokes County Department of Social Services.

James N. Freeman, Jr., Elkin, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

David A. Perez, Thomasville, for respondent-appellant mother.

Mercedes O. Chut, Greensboro, for respondent-appellant father.

ERVIN, Justice.

379 N.C. 178

¶ 1 Respondent-mother Rosa E. and respondent-father Charles V. appeal from the trial court's orders terminating their parental rights in

379 N.C. 179

their minor children J.V., E.V., and A.V.,1 and respondent-mother appeals from the trial court's order terminating her parental rights in her minor child A.E.2 After careful consideration of respondent-mother's and respondent-father's challenges to the trial court's termination orders in light of the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court's termination orders should be affirmed.

I. Factual Background

¶ 2 On 20 February 2018, the Stokes County Department of Social Services received a report alleging that Ellie, Jake, Evette, and Alana lived in a home that was "severe[ly] infest[ed]" with German cockroaches and that Ellie, who was always anxious to eat when she was at school, arrived at school wearing dirty and soiled clothes. The report was accompanied by videos showing the severity of the cockroach infestation that depicted "[a] multitude" of cockroaches in all stages of life crawling up and across all of the surfaces in the home, including the walls, floors, ceilings, counters, cabinets, and kitchen appliances. In the course of investigating the report, the social worker observed that cockroaches were ubiquitous throughout the home and noticed a pile of used diapers by the front door, breakfast cereal scattered around the home, and food-encrusted dishes in the kitchen area. In addition, the social worked observed that two of Alana's front teeth were decaying and that Evette appeared to have an abdominal hernia. On 20 February 2018, DSS filed juvenile petitions alleging that all four children were neglected juveniles who lived in an environment that was injurious to their welfare and were exposed to a substantial risk of physical injury as the result of conditions created by respondent-mother and respondent-father and obtained the entry of orders taking the children

864 S.E.2d 492

into nonsecure custody, a step that resulted in the children's placement in foster care.

¶ 3 After the filing of the original petitions, DSS obtained additional information concerning the children and the conditions in which they lived. Among other things, DSS learned that Ellie had to have her clothes changed on a daily basis following her arrival at school because of their filthy condition and the smell that emanated from them. In addition, the social worker learned that respondent-father allegedly "whopped" Ellie with a "wood[en] board"

379 N.C. 180

when she failed to listen to educational personnel. The family had been the subject of five prior DSS reports, having been found in need of services in 2014 in the aftermath of an incident during which Ellie had been left alone in a vehicle for about fourteen minutes while wearing a heavily soiled diaper at a time when the outside temperature was ninety degrees. According to a psychological report, respondent-mother had reduced intellectual functioning and an untreated mood disorder, did not have sound judgment, and lacked "a good sense" of appropriate child development.

¶ 4 Although respondent-mother claimed that Alana had been born with rotten teeth, subsequently obtained medical records disproved that assertion. An examination of Ellie's medical records reflected concerns relating to inadequate nutrition and a history of asthma. In addition, other medical records revealed that both Ellie and Jake had tested positive for the presence of high levels of lead and that Ellie exhibited "risk factors for lead toxicity." Although the available educational records indicated that, when she was two, Ellie exhibited delays in fine motor skills, she had been identified as being "globally delayed" upon entering kindergarten and was receiving special education services on the basis of an Individualized Educational Plan. In light of this additional information, DSS filed amended juvenile petitions on 8 March 2018 for the purpose of adding allegations that the children had not received proper care, supervision, or discipline from respondent-mother and respondent-father.

¶ 5 On 23 February 2018, respondent-mother and respondent-father entered into case plans in which they agreed to cooperate with an exterminator in connection with the elimination of the cockroach infestation, to dispose of trash and other waste products in an appropriate manner, to receive information concerning the maintenance of appropriate hygiene and to demonstrate a proper understanding of that subject by bathing regularly and maintaining a sanitary home, to attend parenting classes, to obtain a psychological and parenting evaluation and follow all resulting recommendations, and to provide appropriate snacks for and engage in appropriate activities with the children during visits. Respondent-mother and respondent-father began work toward satisfying the requirements of their case plans immediately.

¶ 6 In a report that was dated 15 March 2018 and had been prepared for use in connection with the initial adjudication and disposition hearing on 22 March 2018, DSS noted that respondent-mother and respondent-father had been cooperating with the exterminator, had begun a fourteen-week parenting class, and had scheduled appointments for the purpose of obtaining a psychological and parenting evaluation. DSS noted that, while

379 N.C. 181

respondent-mother had displayed adequate parenting skills and had provided appropriate snacks during visitations, respondent-father had done "very little" during his visits with the children.

¶ 7 On 22 March 2018, respondent-mother and respondent-father stipulated that, at the time that the juvenile petitions had been filed, the children had not been receiving proper care, supervision, or discipline. On 11 May 2018, the trial court entered an order finding that all of the children were neglected juveniles based upon the information to which respondent-mother and respondent-father had stipulated. The trial court instructed respondent-mother and respondent-father to continue to comply with their case plans, allowed them to visit with the children for two hours each week, and established a primary permanent plan for the children of reunification and a secondary permanent plan of legal custody with a relative.

¶ 8 Respondent-mother and respondent-father made some progress toward satisfying the requirements of their case plans prior to

864 S.E.2d 493

the initial review hearing, which was held on 14 June 2018. According to a DSS report dated 6 June 2018, both respondent-mother and respondent-father had completed their psychological and parenting evaluations, neither of which found the conditions of the family home to be unsafe or inappropriate for the children. DSS described the improvements in the condition of the family home as "significant." Finally, DSS reported that respondent-mother and respondent-father had visited with the children "faithfully," were appropriately engaged with the children during the visits, and had completed the required parenting classes.

379 N.C. 182

¶ 9 A report prepared by the guardian ad litem on 7 June 2018, noted, on the other hand, that respondent-mother and respondent-father often ended their visits with the children fifteen minutes early and that they had left a three-hour visit in May 2018 at the two hour mark. In addition, the guardian ad litem indicated that respondent-mother and respondent-father continued to struggle with problems relating to personal hygiene and that they found it difficult to bring appropriate snacks for consumption during visits with the children. Similarly, the guardian ad litem stated that respondent-mother and respondent-father had trouble managing the children and that only respondent-mother attempted to engage with all four children during visits. Finally, the guardian ad litem noted the difficulties that respondent-mother and respondent-father had in attempting to understand the problems that arose from the existence of the children's special needs. The trial court did not make any changes to the children's permanent plan or the existing visitation arrangements in an order that was entered on 13 July 2018 following the conclusion of the 14 June 2018 review hearing.

¶ 10 In a report prepared prior to a review hearing that was initially scheduled for 23 August 2018 and held on 13 September 2018, DSS pointed out that both respondent-mother and respondent-father had participated in Ellie's appointments and had expressed a willingness to meet with the...

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  • In re M.T., COA21-755
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • September 6, 2022 "determine[s] whether terminating the parent's rights is in the juvenile's best interest." N.C.G.S. § 7B-1110(a) (2019). In re A.E. , 379 N.C. 177, 2021-NCSC-130, ¶ 13, 864 S.E.2d 487 (alterations in original). Unlike an abuse, neglect, and dependency proceeding, once the termination of ......
  • In re R.L.R., 305A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 15, 2022
    ...the trial court begins by determining whether any of the grounds for termination delineated in N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a) exist." In re A.E. , 379 N.C. 177, 2021-NCSC-130, ¶ 13, 864 S.E.2d 487 (citing N.C.G.S. § 7B-1109 ). "At the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner bears the burden of proving by......
  • In re M.T., COA21-755
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • September 6, 2022 "determine[s] whether terminating the parent's rights is in the juvenile's best interest." N.C. G.S. § 7B-1110(a) (2019). In re A.E., 379 N.C. 177, 2021-NCSC-130, ¶ 13 (alterations in original). Unlike an abuse, neglect, and dependency proceeding, once the termination of parental rights ......
  • In re C.H., 176A21
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • July 15, 2022
    ...determination regarding the credibility of the GAL's reporting, and this "finding" does not constitute a finding of fact. See In re A.E. , 379 N.C. 177, 2021-NCSC-130, ¶ 16, 864 S.E.2d 487 ("[R]ecitations of the testimony of each witness do not constitute findings of fact by the trial judge......
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