In re M.A., 378 N.C. 462 (2021)

  • Facts: In 2015, the juvenile was adjudicated neglected due to circumstances involving housing instability and domestic violence. Mother made some progress on her case plan, including finding stable housing for a period of 3 years. At the time of the TPR, she had moved to a studio apartment, with a roommate, and was not on the lease. She had not informed DSS of her move until 5 months later and did not provide her roommate’s name until the TPR hearing. She had not satisfactorily completed DV treatment, delayed obtaining her parental capacity assessment for over a year, and did not follow through on all the recommendations. Mother also was not always present at her home for unannounced visits by the dss social worker when mother had unsupervised visitation with her child. The court granted the TPR and mother appeals, challenging the grounds. The appeal focuses on neglect and the likelihood of future neglect.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1) authorizes a TPR on the ground of neglect, which involves a parent not providing proper care, supervision, or discipline or a juvenile who lives in an injurious environment. When there is a long period of separation, neglect requires prior neglect and a likelihood of repetition of neglect, based on the circumstances at the time of the TPR hearing.
  • The challenged findings are supported by competent evidence including testimony from the dss social worker and psychologist who completed the parental capacity assessment and the assessment. Unchallenged findings also support the court’s conclusion of neglect.
  • The court may make reasonable inferences (not conjecture) of the evidence presented, which it did in this case. The evidence of Mother’s underreporting of DV and inability to articulate what she learned in DV treatment supported the court’s reasonable inference that mother was unable to protect herself or her child from being in a DV situation.
  • Failure to make progress on a case plan is indicative of a likelihood of future neglect, and compliance with a case plan does not preclude a determination of neglect. Although mother made some progress on her case plan, she did not address the conditions of housing and DV that led to the child’s adjudication and removal from her home. At the time of the TPR hearing, mother’s housing was unstable, even though she had had a period of housing stability prior to that. Although mother had unsupervised visits before the TPR hearing, the TPR order did not continue those unsupervised visits – the TPR order was not internally consistent. Unsupervised visits approved when mother was living at a different address does not preclude a court from later determining there is a likelihood of future neglect when mother’s circumstances changed.
Termination of Parental Rights
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