In re K.N., 373 N.C. 274 (2020)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: Child was adjudicated neglected and dependent in an underlying juvenile action. Respondent father’s case plan included complete anger management and substance abuse evaluations and follow all recommendations, successfully complete parenting education, participate in a domestic violence intervention program, secure and maintain appropriate housing, comply with probation, and do not incur any new criminal charges. The trial court ultimately ordered concurrent permanent plans of adoption (primary) and reunification (secondary). DSS was ordered to initiate a TPR. The TPR was granted on the ground of neglect. Respondent father appeals, arguing the findings were not supported by the evidence, and the findings do not support the conclusion of neglect.
  • Neglect Standard: When a child has been separated from a parent for a long period of time, the neglect ground requires a showing of both past neglect and a likelihood of future neglect by that parent. In determining the likelihood of future neglect, “the trial court must consider evidence of relevant circumstances or events that existed or occurred either before or after the prior adjudication of neglect,” and “the determinative factors must be the best interests of the child and the fitness of the parent to care for the child at the time of the termination proceeding.” Sl.Op. at 11 (emphasis in original; citations omitted).
  • Findings: The trial court’s findings were insufficient to support the conclusion of neglect. There were very few findings that directly related to the respondent’s ability to care for his child or the extent to which his behavior affected his child’s welfare. The court could have made additional findings based on evidence in the record that may have been sufficient, such as respondent’s long history of drug abuse and extensive criminal record, the effect of the current criminal charges and the impact those charges would have on respondent’s ability to care for his child, respondent’s slow pace in completing his case plan and hostility towards people managing some of those services in which he refused to participate, and an additional domestic violence incident.
    • Although one finding that did address the respondent’s ability to care for his child is that respondent was currently incarcerated and awaiting trial on a number of criminal charges, incarceration in and of itself is not a sword or a shield in a TPR. The findings should include an analysis of the relevant facts and circumstances, including the length, of the parent’s incarceration. Other findings do not establish that respondent failed to comply with the portions of his case plan that address domestic violence or substance abuse components of his case plan. There was no explanation about the finding that respondent provided diluted drug screens, how the court viewed those diluted screens, or the nature or extent of any earlier substance abuse issues of the respondent.
Termination of Parental Rights
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