In re M.S.L., 380 N.C. 778 (2022)

  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated neglected based on circumstances related to mother’s substance use. Respondent father contacted DSS because he believed he was the juvenile’s father, which he was later determined to be. Ultimately, DSS sought to terminate father’s rights. Father admitted to the allegations in the petition, which the court accepted as stipulations, but asked to be heard on the child’s best interests. After hearing, the TPR was granted. Father appeals arguing the findings of fact do not support the conclusion of neglect as the ground to TPR because father was not responsible for the initial neglect adjudication.
  • Relying on prior opinions that rejected similar arguments, a neglect adjudication is about the circumstances and conditions surrounding the child and not the fault or culpability of the parent. Failure to make progress on a case plan is indicative of a likelihood of future neglect. Father admitted to the allegations in the TPR petition, and the court made findings and conclusions from those stipulations, which included father’s substance use, failure to comply with his case plan regarding substance use treatment and a parenting capacity evaluation, and delayed taking a paternity test. Although the findings were limited to father’s factual stipulations, there are sufficient to conclude neglect existed. Father stipulated the juvenile was previously adjudicated neglected based on the juvenile testing positive for substances at birth and he used controlled substances.
Termination of Parental Rights
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