In re S.M., 375 N.C. 673 (2020)

  • Facts: The six children had been adjudicated neglected based on dirty conditions in the home, poor hygiene, lack of schooling, domestic violence, and substance abuse. A case plan addressing these issues, the need for a mental health assessment, and a psychosexual evaluation by father due to allegations of sexual abuse of one of the children was ordered. After the parents' noncompliance with the case plan, DSS filed TPR petitions alleging neglect and failure to correct the conditions. On the day of the TPR hearing, 89 days after the TPR was filed, father’s attorney moved for a continuance because the psychosexual evaluation had been received the day before. The court denied the request based on the father’s choosing to significantly delay obtaining the evaluation. The TPR was granted, and both parents appeal challenging the best interests determination. Father also challenges the court’s denial of his motion to continue the hearing. Mother challenges the grounds as well.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a TPR when the parent has willfully left the juvenile in a foster care or other placement for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the child’s removal. Willfulness involves a parent’s ability to show reasonable progress but an unwillingness to make the effort. Compliance with a case plan is relevant; satisfaction of all the elements of the plan is not required, but extremely limited progress supports this ground.
  • The challenged findings of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence, including the social worker’s uncontroverted testimony. To the extent that a portion of one finding was not supported by the evidence, it is disregarded.
  • Mother’s progress on her case plan was not reasonable. “Having presented no evidence of her own during the hearing, respondent-mother’s completion of parenting classes and the registration of a single negative drug screen stand alone as affirmative attainments by her toward the successful fulfillment of her case plan, while the remainder of the record illustrates respondent-mother’s lack of reasonable progress in correcting the conditions which led to the removal of the children from the home.” 20.
  • Regarding willfulness, there is no evidence in the record identifying any barriers that impacted mother’s ability to comply with her case plan. An inability to improve her situation despite some efforts and good intentions will support a finding of lack of reasonable progress under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2). The findings addressing her failures to comply with her case plan demonstrate mother’s willfulness. 
Termination of Parental Rights
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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