In re J.S., 374 N.C. 811 (2020)

  • Facts: In 2016, the children were adjudicated neglected due to filthy and unsafe conditions in the home and mother’s failure to follow the safety plan. Two years later, DSS filed TPR petitions, which were granted. Respondent mother appealed, challenging the grounds and disposition (disposition discussed in section below).
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a TPR if the parent has willfully left the juvenile in foster care or other placement for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the juvenile’s removal. This requires that the child be left in foster care/other placement pursuant to a court order. The reasonable progress by a parent is evaluated for the period of time up to the TPR hearing. (agreeing with In re A.C.F., 176 N.C. App. 520 (2006)). There is no requirement that a parent be in the position to regain custody of the children at the time of the TPR hearing. Willfulness is a question of fact; it does not require fault by the parent. Regardless of some efforts and good intentions, a prolonged inability to improve the situation will support a finding of willfulness and lack of progress. A parent’s compliance with a court ordered case plan is relevant when there is a nexus between the case plan components that the parent failed to comply with and the conditions that led to the child’s removal.
  • Findings were sufficient
    • Mother complied with several case plan provisions including parenting classes, regular contact with DSS, passing drug screens, and visiting with the children. However, she did not make meaningful progress in improving the housing conditions, which were the primary reason for the children’s removal.
    • Although mother had cognitive limitations and personality issues, she did not lack the ability to show reasonable progress. There was no indication that mother could not clean and maintain her home and she failed to do so when she was not responsible for providing child-rearing responsibilities to her children. She refused to cooperate with the in-home aide provided by DSS and did not correct the conditions over a 3-year period. The court did not err in determining her actions were willful.
    • There is no internal inconsistency in the order that determined mother willfully failed to make reasonable progress and that she was incapable of providing proper care and supervision to the children as part of the ground to TPR for dependency. Whether mother could regain custody of the children at the time of the TPR hearing is irrelevant for the ground under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2).
Termination of Parental Rights
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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