In re Q.P.W., ___ N.C. ___ (March 12, 2021)

Held: 
Affirmed
There is a dissent
Earls, J.
  • Facts: This TPR involves an underlying dependency action for the juvenile, when her own mother was also a minor in DSS custody. While the mother was a juvenile in DSS custody, both she and her child (the juvenile in this case) were placed together from 2014-2017. Based on mother’s behaviors, there were some disruptions in the joint placement. When mother turned 18 (in 2017), she was no longer eligible to remain in the placement with her child. For the next year she had minimal contact with her child and failed to comply with her case plan addressing employment, parenting, housing, mental health and substance abuse issues, and consistent visits with her child. Ultimately DSS filed a TPR petition, which was granted on several grounds. Mother appeals – arguing the findings of fact (which were not challenged by mother) do not support the conclusion of law. This appeal focuses on the ground of failure to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions.
  • Standard of review is whether the findings of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence and whether the findings support the conclusions of law. Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) requires a 2-step analysis:
    • did the parent willfully leave the child in foster care or other placement for 12 or more months; the time period starts with the juvenile’s placement pursuant to a court order and ends with the date the TPR petition/motion is filed, and
    • has the parent failed to make reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the child’s removal.
  • The relevant time period for the first prong is April 2018-April 2019. The findings show that mother stopped sharing a placement with the juvenile in December 2017, more than 12 months before the TPR petition was filed. The findings also show mother’s actions in not complying with her case plan after she turned 18 support the conclusion that she willfully left the juvenile in foster care/placement outside the home for more than 12 months.
  • Compliance with a case plan is relevant when determining whether the second prong of G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) has been satisfied. Relying on In re B.O.A., 372 N.C. 372 (2019), the objectives in mother’s case plan addressed the issues the led to the juvenile’s removal and included factors that become apparent as more information came to light about the barriers to reunification. Although mother was a minor when her child was removed from her care, the modifications to her case plan were tied to her need to demonstrate maturity and stability - e.g, parenting skills, housing, employment – and had a nexus to the conditions that directly or indirectly contributed to the circumstances of mother’s immaturity and instability resulting in the child’s removal. The unchallenged findings about mother’s lack of progress (failure to maintain stable housing, attending parenting classes, cooperate with drug screen, and consistently visit with the juvenile) since she turned 18 support the conclusion.
  • Dissent: In assessing mother’s willfulness in leaving her child in foster care, the majority should have considered mother’s own experiences in foster care and aging out of foster care. As a 14-year-old mother in foster care (her pregnancy resulting from a sexual assault), she made progress while in foster care and the realities of her difficult transition from foster care to independent living as well as her own adolescent development should have been considered. Additionally, her voluntary participation in the NC LINKS program should have been considered. Failing to consider these factors does not apply the “under the circumstances” component of G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) when looking at whether mother made reasonable progress. In examining the other grounds to TPR, the conclusions are not supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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