In re R.L.R., 381 N.C. 863 (2022)

  • Facts: In 2019, the juvenile was adjudicated neglected and dependent due to circumstances resulting from mother's substance use, improper supervision, and an injurious environment. After mother failed to make progress on her case plan and the child’s relative with whom she was placed expressed a desire to adopt, the primary permanent plan was identified as adoption. In 2020 DSS filed a TPR motion. While the TPR was pending, the relative changed her mind about adoption, and the child was moved to a foster home. The TPR was granted. Mother appeals, challenging the grounds and best interests determination.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1) authorizes a TPR when a parent neglects their child, including failing to provide proper care, supervision, or discipline or creating an injurious living environment. When a parent and child have been separated for a long period of time there must be prior neglect and the likelihood of future neglect based on the changed conditions at the time of the TPR hearing. Regarding the likelihood of future neglect, a parent’s failure to make progress on their case plan or visit with their child is indicative of a likelihood of future neglect, while compliance with a case plan does not preclude a finding of neglect.
  • The challenged findings of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence – social worker testimony. One challenged finding that is not supported by the evidence is disregarded. The findings support the determination of a likelihood of future neglect.
  • Although mother made progress after the TPR was filed, which the trial court considered, that progress was insufficient to show mother’s behavior changed in a way that ensured the child’s safety and welfare and that any change would be sustained. “ [A] ‘case plan is not just a checklist,’ ” but rather the parents must “demonstrate acknowledgment and understanding of why the juvenile entered DSS custody as well as changed behaviors.” 381 N.C. at 875 (citation omitted). For example, being compliant with drug testing for the last 3 months after being noncompliant for 19 months is insufficient progress. Mother argued she was unable to demonstrate her changed behaviors because her visits were suspended. The suspension of visits was based on mother’s failure to consistently visit with their child and the negative impact those missed visits had on the child. In addition to these findings, her failure to maintain suitable housing, stable employment, and transportation support the court’s determination.
Termination of Parental Rights
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