In re A.R.A., 373 N.C. 190 (2019)


In re A.R.A., ___ N.C. ___ (Dec. 6, 2019)

                Held: Affirmed

  • Facts: The family has an extensive history with DSS based on substance abuse and domestic violence by father against the children and respondent mother. The children initially came into care through a voluntary placement by mother so that she and father could live together. DSS filed a petition and the children were adjudicated neglected. Throughout the 2 year action, mother and father continued to reside together and denied the impact that the domestic violence and substance abuse history had on the children. After making limited progress, the court ordered a primary permanent plan of adoption, and DSS filed a TPR petition which was granted on the grounds of neglect and willful failure to make reasonable progress. Respondent mother appeals the TPR order, challenging the grounds and best interests determination.
  • The standard of review of a TPR adjudication is whether the findings are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and  whether the findings support the conclusions of law. Unchallenged findings are deemed to be supported by competent evidence and are binding on appeal.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) is a ground to TPR when the parent has willfully left the child in a foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without showing reasonable progress to correct the conditions that led to the children’s removal. The findings that respondent mother lacked an understanding or did not accept responsibility for the circumstances leading to the children’s removal is supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence as she continued to live with father who did not comply with his case plan, blamed the children and other people for his return home, and defended father throughout the TPR hearing.  Mother did not make reasonable progress in her case plan that included providing a safe and stable home environment for the children.
  • The trial court determines the credibility of witnesses, the weight to give the testimony, and the reasonable inferences made from that testimony. It was reasonable for the court to infer that the social worker was prevented from having access to the home when respondent parents repeatedly cancelled home visits. Evidence, through social worker testimony, supported the finding that mother either refused or failed to provide a new address (after being evicted) to DSS and made it difficult for the social worker to conduct home visits to assess whether there was safe and stable housing for the children. Respondent mother did not rebut the clear, cogent, and convincing evidence by DSS, and her failure to do so is not a shifting of the burden of proof on to respondent mother. The court reasonably inferred mother placed her relationship with the father over the children’s safety even though there was no evidence of domestic violence occurring after the children’s removal.
Termination of Parental Rights
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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