In re S.M., 380 N.C. 788 (2022)

  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated neglected and dependent. Respondent parents did not engage in services resulting in a primary permanent plan of adoption. DSS filed a TPR motion, which was granted.  Respondent parents appeal, challenging the best interests determination of the TPR order. They argue the facts are not supported by the evidence and the court abused its discretion when making the best interests of the child determination.
  • The standard of review of a dispositional order is an abuse of discretion. The findings must be supported by competent evidence, which under G.S. 7B-1110 includes any evidence, including hearsay evidence, that is relevant, reliable and necessary to determine the most appropriate disposition. The court must consider factors in G.S. 7B-1110(a) and make written findings of those that are relevant. Relevant factors are those where there is conflicting evidence making the factor an issue for the district court.
  • The majority of the challenged findings are supported by the evidence, including social worker testimony, a letter from the juvenile’s physician’s assistant, and DSS and GAL reports. Mother’s argument that the DSS report is incompetent evidence because its sources were not identified is without merit. There was no objection to the report and there was the opportunity to cross-examine the social worker. The court did not abuse its discretion in relying on the reports since hearsay evidence is admissible at disposition.
  • In reviewing each factor of G.S. 7B-1110(a), the findings were supported by the evidence. The child’s age of 11 and her potential need to consent to adoption can be waived and would not preclude the adoption. A TPR was necessary to achieve the permanent plan of adoption; the trial court is not required to address the secondary plan (in this case guardianship). Although the juvenile has significant behavioral issues and experienced multiple placements, the evidence supported the court’s finding that she was likely to be adopted given her recent attachment to her foster parent and reduction in behaviors and the ability to provide more resources for an adoption once she was free to be adopted. Regarding the parent-child bond, the evidence supported the finding that the relationship hindered the juvenile’s emotional development and well-being.
  • There was no abuse of discretion in determining TPR was in the child’s best interests when there was no adoptive placement for the child. This case is distinguishable from In re J.A.O., 166 N.C. App. 222 (2004). Here, the juvenile showed improvement and respondents made no progress in correcting the conditions that led to the juvenile’s removal. The appellate court will not reweigh the evidence. The trial court considered the relevant statutory criteria  and made a reasoned decision. 
Termination of Parental Rights
Best Interests Findings
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