In re J.J.H., 376 N.C. 161 (2020)

  • Facts: The juveniles were adjudicated neglected in an underlying juvenile action. Mother was ordered to comply with her case planto  address employment/income, housing, substance abuse, parenting skills, mental health, domestic violence, visitation, and child support. After the situation with mother deteriorated, including her assaulting the DSS social worker, the primary permanent plan was changed to adoption. DSS filed a motion to TPR, which was granted on the ground of neglect. Mother appeals the ground arguing the evidence does not support the findings and the disposition to TPR.
  • Neglect requires a showing of neglect as defined by G.S. 7B-101(15) at the time of the TPR hearing (current neglect) or if the child has been separated from the parent for a long period of time, a TPR for neglect must be based on a showing of past neglect and a likelihood of future neglect by considering the evidence of changed circumstances given the history of neglect by the parents between the time of the past neglect and the TPR hearing.
  • The court found past neglect, current neglect, and the likelihood of repetition of neglect. “A parent’s compliance with his or her case plan does not preclude a finding of neglect.” Sl.Op. at 37. Although the court found mother made substantial efforts in complying with her case plan and loves her children, she lacked a substantial capacity for analyzing and forecasting problems and problem-solving issues when they arise and that presents a substantial obstacle to her ability to provide appropriate care to her children such that there is a high likelihood of repetition of neglect. Additionally, many of the conditions that led to the children’s removal continued to exist.
  • This 54 page opinion discusses the evidence and the findings to support the likelihood of repetition of neglect based on mother’s income and her budgeting abilities; her difficulties in locating new housing to accommodate all the children and their needs while being within her budget; concern about her dogs, who are intimidating, and the children’s exposure to them as part of her housing situation; her refusal to participate in drug screens, which were a reflection of her inability to effectively respond to being frustrated in difficult situations; her parenting skills; her resistance to mental health treatment; her improper responses to stressful situations despite completing anger management counseling and a domestic violence victims program; and her parenting skills including her inability to provide adequate care and discipline and manage the children’s complex schedules involving multiple medical and school appointments to address their special needs.
  • “The combination of respondent-mother’s weaknesses coupled with the challenges created by the children’s conditions provides compelling justification for a determination that a decision to return the children to respondent-mother’s care would almost certainly end in future neglect and that respondent-mother had been provided more than sufficient time to overcome the obstacles that she faced in attempting to provide adequate care for the children. Sl.Op. at 39.
  • Dissent: The findings do not provide clear, cogent, and convincing support for the conclusion of neglect – the evidence does not show it is likely she will provide inadequate care. A mere possibility of future neglect is not sufficient to permanently sever the parent-child relationship. By minimizing the importance of mother’s substantial progress in her case plan, the majority devalues the efforts parents across the state are making to improve the parenting abilities for reunification. Poverty is a factor here (e.g., her housing is small) and is not in itself evidence of a likelihood of future neglect.
Termination of Parental Rights
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