In re E.B., 256 N.C. App. 27 (2017)

Reversed and Remanded
  • Facts: In 2014, DSS filed a petition and obtained nonsecure custody of three children who were removed from their parents’ home because of severe and ongoing domestic violence. In 2015, the children were adjudicated neglected and dependent. Respondent father was ordered to comply with a case plan that included domestic violence offender treatment and counseling; a mental health assessment; an approved parenting class; and obtaining and maintaining suitable housing, employment, and transportation to provide for the children’s needs. In 2016, the primary permanent plan was changed to adoption because of continued domestic violence between the parents, and DSS filed a TPR petition alleging neglect and failure to make reasonable progress on the plan as a result. Both parent’ rights were terminated, and respondent father appeals the termination of his rights on both grounds.
  • The dispositive question regarding the neglect ground [G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1)] at the TPR is the fitness of the parent to care of the child at the time of the TPR hearing. There’s a two-part analysis for the ground under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2): (1) the child has been willfully left by the parent in foster care or placement outside the home for over twelve months and (2) the parent has not made reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the child’s removal.
  • The findings are vague and insufficient to support the court’s conclusions of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress and lack the “specificity necessary ‘to enable an appellate court to review the decision and test the correctness of the judgment.’“ (citing Quick v. Quick, 305 NC 446, 451 (1982)). The court made three findings regarding the domestic violence. The children were removed from the home and adjudicated neglected and dependent due to domestic violence. After a January 2016 incident of domestic violence, the parents entered counseling. Another incident of domestic violence occurred in July 2016. Based on these three findings, the court concluded neglect existed and was likely to be repeated given the continued domestic violence between the parents, and that the father had not made reasonable progress to correct the conditions that resulted in the children’s removal in December 2014, as the domestic violence between the parents continued. The two findings of the 2016 domestic violence incidents do not address the circumstances of the domestic violence, its severity, the impact on the children, or that respondent father was engaged in the domestic violence. The evidence showed mother was the aggressor and only one involved in domestic violence.
  • Concurrence: The findings do not support the conclusions as the record does not indicate what role if any the father had in the domestic violence incidents. The mother was the one charged. Additionally, evidence in the record tends to show the father made progress on his case plan when he completed a parenting class; submitted to the mental health assessment; obtained employment, transportation, and stable housing; interacts appropriately with the children; and attends domestic violence counseling services. On remand the court needs to address whether this evidence (or additional evidence) supports a finding that father did or did not make progress on his plan.
Termination of Parental Rights
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