In re K.D.C., 375 N.C. 784 (2020)

  • Facts: The juveniles were adjudicated neglected in an underlying action due to circumstances created by father and mother’s incarceration. Mother was ordered to comply with a case plan. Mother was incarcerated throughout the neglect proceeding. Ultimately, DSS filed a TPR petition alleging the grounds of neglect, failure to make reasonable progress, and dependency. The TPR was granted, and mother appeals the grounds.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a TPR when the parent has willfully left the juvenile in a 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 child’s removal. Willfulness involves a parent’s ability to show reasonable progress but an unwillingness to make the effort. 
  • The court must consider whether mother had the ability to make reasonable progress while she was incarcerated. Mother’s inability to obtain housing or employment 15 months in advance of her release date from prison is not her failure to comply with these case plan requirements. The 15 month gap “is too remote in time to be fairly evaluated as a case plan violation.” Sl.Op. at 17.
  • Reasonable progress does not require full satisfaction of all the elements of the case plan but does require more than extremely limited progress. The “mothering” class respondent took while incarcerated is worthy of acknowledgement when considering whether she complied with the parenting classes requirement of her case plan and is a sufficient attempt by mother to comply with the case plan given her circumstances.
  • The findings of fact about mother’s failure to complete her mental health and substance abuse requirements despite having the ability to do so are not supported by clear and convincing evidence.
  • DSS did not meet its burden of proof that this ground existed.
Termination of Parental Rights
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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