In re N.B., ___ N.C. ___ (April 23, 2021)

Held: 
Affirmed
  • Facts: DSS filed a petition in 2017 and in March 2018, the juveniles were adjudicated neglected and dependent in an underlying juvenile action due to mother’s frequent incarceration; housing instability; substance abuse; domestic violence; and being left with inappropriate caretakers who exposed the children to inappropriate discipline, illegal drugs, and inappropriate sexual touching. Father was incarcerated and remained so throughout the case. DSS filed motions to TPR both parents rights, which was granted. Both parents appeal.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1) authorizes a TPR on the ground of neglect. When a parent has been separated from the child for a long period of time, there must be a showing a past neglect and likelihood of future neglect by considering evidence of changed circumstances between the time of the past neglect and the TPR hearing. Evidence of a parent’s neglect before they lose custody of the child, including an adjudication of neglect, is admissible to show prior neglect in a TPR.
  • Likelihood of future neglect:
    • Mother did not enter a case place until more than one year after the children were placed in DSS custody. Findings show that mother made some progress on her case plan, including successfully completing her conditions of parole, obtaining employment, but some progress does not preclude a neglect determination. The findings also showed mother did not establish a safe, stable, drug-free home; did not comply with the drug screen requirements of her case plan; had little contact with the children after she was no longer incarcerated; and had a limited understanding of the children’s mental health issues resulting from their trauma. Based on these findings the court could reasonably determine a likelihood of repetition of neglect.
    • The court did not make findings based solely on father’s incarceration. It considered the limitation on father to develop and maintain a relationship with his daughter due to his incarceration. The court made findings of father’s prior neglect when the juvenile was in his custody in 2007, along with her neglect while father was incarcerated. Findings of father’s inconsistent contact with DSS and his lack of regular contact with the juvenile (one letter was sent to her through DSS) support a likelihood of repetition of neglect finding by the court. (Father also raised an ineffective assistance of counsel claim which was determined to have no merit).
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Neglect
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