In re A.N.H., 2022-NCSC-47

Held: 
Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated neglected based on circumstances related to mother’s substance use, mental health, and lack of income. Father’s paternity was established prior to the adjudication and concerns regarding his domestic violence and substance use were raised in an amended neglect petition. Father entered into a case plan with DSS and was participating in the services. Father did test positive on some drug screens. DSS filed a TPR motion, alleging neglect and failure to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions. The court granted the TPR on both grounds. Father appeals, arguing the findings are not supported by clear and convincing evidence and that the findings do not support the conclusions for the grounds.
  • Neglect involves a juvenile whose parent does not provide proper care and supervision or who creates an injurious living environment. When there is a long period of separation between a child and parent, there must be a showing a past neglect and a likelihood of future neglect. An indication of a likelihood of future neglect is a parent’s failure to make progress on a case plan. The court looks at the best interests of the child and the parent’s fitness to care for the child at the time of the TPR hearing.
  • Failure to make reasonable progress does not require a complete remediation of all the conditions that led to the child’s removal. There does have to be a nexus between the components of the case plan and the reasons for the child’s removal.
  • The findings show that father completed the CCA and substance use assessment; completed a substance use program, a domestic violence program, and a parenting program. Father tested positive for cocaine and other illegal substances and denied illegal drug use. Father admitted to drug use in the adjudication order of a neglected juvenile. Ten of father’s drug screens showed negative results. Father paid child support and attended 78 of 80 visits with his mother always in attendance such that he is unable to care for the child on his own. Father has sporadic employment but was employed at the time of the TPR hearing. Father resides with his aunt, which is an appropriate and safe home. Father did not participate in intensive outpatient substance use treatment as recommended. Father did not complete individual therapy.
  • There was no evidence to support some of the findings including the father’s denial of drug use. The GAL report that was admitted at the dispositional stage cannot be considered at adjudication. Although father had unsupervised visits at one point does not preclude the court from finding he has not demonstrated an ability to provide appropriate care to his child. However, the evidence does not support the court’s determination that he lacks the ability to provide appropriate care. The finding that father did not complete individual therapy is not supported by the evidence.
  • Respondent complied with most of his case plan requirements and at the time of the TPR had regularly visited with the child, paid child support, and an appropriate and stable home, completed substance use, domestic violence, and parenting programs, and addressed the conditions that led to the child’s placement in DSS custody. Although substance use was a concern and father tested positive on drug screens, he completed substance abuse treatment. There are no findings about whether his drug use creates or substantial risk of harm to the child. Similarly, given the completion of most of his case plan, the findings do not support a conclusion that he failed to make reasonable progress.
  • Remand is appropriate because the court must address whether the erroneous factual findings were central or incidental to the conclusions of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Neglect
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