In re H.A.J., ___ N.C. ___ (March 19, 2021)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: In 2018, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected based on circumstances related to mother’s substance use and the children’s exposure to domestic violence. At a 2019 permanency planning hearing, DSS and the children’s GAL recommended that reunification be eliminated as a permanent plan. Mother objected due to lack of notice of that recommendation and due process concerns. The court proceeded with the hearing and ordered concurrent plans of adoption and guardianship, eliminating reunification as a permanent plan. Mother preserved her right to appeal. DSS filed a TPR petition, which was granted on the ground of neglect. Mother appeals both orders and challenges both the ground and best interests of the child determination in the TPR.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1) authorizes a TPR on the ground of neglect as defined by G.S. 7B-101(15). Neglect may be currently occurring at the time of the TPR hearing or when a child and parent have been separated for a significant time, neglect before the parent loses custody of the child and the likelihood of future neglect by the parent based on evidence of changed circumstances that may have occurred between the time of the past neglect and the TPR hearing.
    • There is evidence of past neglect based on the juvenile’s prior adjudication of neglect and mother’s admission to substance use and domestic violence when she first interviewed with DSS.
    • The court found mother failed to comply with her case plan, and these findings support the determination of a likelihood of future neglect. Although the court placed heavy emphasis on mother’s actions before the TPR petition was filed, it did consider her recent participation (post TPR filing) in substance abuse treatment. “The trial court ultimately determined, however, that respondent-mother’s last-minute progress was insufficient to outweigh her long-standing history of alcohol and substance abuse and domestic violence, as well as the impact these behaviors had on [the juveniles].” Sl.Op. ¶23. There was no error in the determination that there likely would be a repetition of neglect.
  • The court did not abuse its discretion in determining the TPR was in the children’s best interests. A bond between a parent and child is one of many factors the court considers. A pre-adoptive placement is not required for a TPR to be granted. The facts regarding the juveniles and their needs in this case are distinguishable from In re J.A.O., 166 N.C. App. 222 (2004).
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Neglect
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