Heard in the Court of Appeals 20 October 2014.
Appeal by Respondent-Father from order entered 25 February 2014 by Judge Louis A. Trosch in District Court, Mecklenburg County,
No. 10 JT 762.
Twyla Hollingsworth-Richardson for Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Petitioner-Appellee.
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, by John M. Moye, for guardian ad litem.
Robert W. Ewing for Respondent-Appellant.
McGEE, Chief Judge. Judges HUNTER, Robert C. and ELMORE concur.
McGEE, Chief Judge.
Respondent (" the Father" ) appeals from the trial court's order terminating his parental rights as to the minor child, A.W. (" the Child" ). We affirm the trial court's order.
Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services (" YFS" ) filed a juvenile petition on 30 December 2010, alleging that the Child was dependent. On that same date, YFS obtained nonsecure custody of the Child. The Child's mother (" the Mother" ) was eighteen years old at the time and had entered into a Contractual Agreement for Continuing Residential Support (" CARS agreement" ) with YFS after she had aged out of foster care. This agreement allowed the Mother to remain in foster care with stipulations that she remain in school and comply with the rules and regulations of her placement. Paternity had not been established for the Child and there were no relative placement options. The trial court adjudicated the Child dependent on 10 February 2011.
The Mother identified the Father as the potential biological parent of the Child in December of 2011. The Father was contacted by YFS soon thereafter, and paternity testing confirmed that he was the Child's biological father. The Father was notified that he was the Child's biological father on 23 January 2012.
The YFS social worker conducted a home visit with the Father and his sister on 15 February 2012. The social worker inquired about the Father's willingness to work a case plan for reunification with the Child. The Father indicated that he was not able to at the time, but that his sister was interested. The social worker discussed the process with the Father's sister, letting the Father's sister know that she must fill out paperwork and return it so that a home study could be done on her home. This paperwork was never submitted.
The social worker did not speak with the Father again until December 2012. At that time, the Father had learned that the Mother wanted to surrender her parental rights so that the Child could be adopted by his foster parents. The Father met with the social worker, and the social worker explained to him that he would need to submit to a Families in Recovery to Stay Together (" F.I.R.S.T." ) assessment, and then a case plan could be developed. The social worker also explained that the Father would need to appear in court and state his wishes before they could move forward. The Father appeared in court for the first time on 25 January 2013, at a permanency planning hearing. The trial court appointed him counsel and continued the matter to allow the Father an opportunity to meet with counsel.
Subsequent permanency planning hearings were scheduled for 20 February 2013 and 3 May 2013 but had to be rescheduled. In continuance orders filed 12 April 2013 and 23 April 2013, the trial court noted that its determination regarding whether it would be in the Child's best interests to have visitation with the Father would have to occur at a later time. The trial court conducted the permanency planning hearing on 9 July 2013. The trial court found:
[The Father] was informed on January 23, 2012 that he would have to seek a court order authorizing him to receive custody and/or visitation of [the Child] but [the Father] did not take action until December 10, 2012. During those 11 months, [the Father] did not participate in a FIRST assessment as requested by the social worker, did not contact YFS to inquire about the [Child's] well-being, failed to provide consistent support or assistance,
did not follow up with the social worker about having [the Child] placed with his sister, and did not take any other action toward gaining custody of [the Child]. From January 2012 to January 2013, [the Father] visited with [the Child] sporadically and has not seen [the Child] since January of 2013. Although [the Father] was employed with Fed Ex and worked 25-30 hours a week, he never inquired with the department about how to begin paying child support or made any payments, but he did buy [the Child] a few outfits during this time.
The trial court ceased reunification efforts, established adoption as the permanent plan, and ordered YFS to file a petition to terminate the Father's parental rights. However, the ...