Heard in the Court of Appeals March 16, 2015
Mecklenburg County. Nos. 13 JA 117-18.
Kathleen M. Arundell for petitioner-appellee Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services.
Poyner Spruill LLP, by Caroline P. Mackie, for guardian ad litem.
Appellate Defender Staples Hughes, by Assistant Appellate Defender J. Lee Gilliam for respondent-appellant mother.
Judges STROUD and
HUNTER, JR. concur.
Appeal by respondent-mother (" Mother" ) from order entered 11 August 2014 by Judge Louis A. Trosch
in Mecklenburg County District Court.
Mother appeals from the district court's " Permanency Planning Review and Guardianship Order" which (1) changed the permanent plan for her children N.B. (" Noah" ) and L.B. (" Lindsay" ) from " guardianship, with a concurrent goal of reunification with a parent" to one of guardianship; (2) awarded guardianship of the children to their paternal grandparents (" Mr. and Ms. Smith" ); and (3) granted Mother one hour per month of supervised visitation. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's order.
In March 2006, the Jefferson County, New York, Department of Social Services filed a petition alleging that Mother had neglected Noah and Lindsay. The Jefferson County Family Court (the " New York Court" ) subsequently entered an order concluding that Mother had neglected the children by her misuse of drugs while caring for the children and by her failure to address her long history of alcohol and substance abuse. The New York Court placed the children in the custody of respondent-father (" Father" ) and ordered Mother to, inter alia, get treatment.
In March 2010, Father moved with the children to North Carolina. In October 2010, the New York Court entered an order " relinquishing jurisdiction to the State of North Carolina."
In February 2013, the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services (" YFS" ) obtained non-secure custody of the children and filed a juvenile petition alleging that they were abused, neglected, and dependent, based in part on Mother's abuse of alcohol and " reports of domestic violence between the mother and men that visit the home, in the presence of the children."
In June 2013, the children were diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (" PTSD" ) from witnessing incidents of domestic violence involving their Mother.
In July 2013, the Mecklenburg County District Court adjudicated Noah and Lindsay neglected and dependent and ordered them to " remain in YFS custody with placement with [the paternal grandparents, Mr. and Ms. Smith]." The court found that Mother was drinking " excessively" and abusing drugs in front of her children and was involved in " frequent arguments" and " physical altercations" with her live-in boyfriend. The district court ordered Mother to have a psychological evaluation that included a substance abuse assessment as well as a domestic violence assessment.
In August 2013, the parents' visitation was involuntarily suspended.
In September 2013, the district court entered a review order establishing a permanent plan of reunification " with a concurrent goal of guardianship." It noted that Mother had yet to obtain her court-ordered evaluation and assessments. The court also found that Mother had not grasped the seriousness of her issues but had " minimized her substance abuse issues and her domestic violence issues with [her boyfriend.]"
In January 2014, the district court entered another review order, finding that neither parent had made progress toward reunification. The court found that although both children continued to exhibit PTSD symptoms, their symptoms had diminished since their parents' visitation was suspended. The court ordered Mother to obtain a psychological evaluation and substance abuse and domestic violence assessments.
In February 2014, the district court changed Noah and Lindsay's permanent plan to " guardianship; with a concurrent goal of reunification." The court again noted the parents' failure to obtain their court-ordered evaluations and described Father as having " all but 'checked out.'" While " commend[ing] [M]other for the work she is doing[,]" the court identified the following issues as barriers to reunification: " domestic
violence, substance abuse and mental health needs[,] the children's mental health needs[, and] understanding the impact of the past on the children."
Subsequently, Mother obtained a psychological evaluation and substance abuse assessment from Nicole L. Cantley, Ph.D., resulting in Axis I diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood; alcohol abuse, early full remission; and opioid dependence, sustained partial remission. Dr. Cantley reported that Mother " admits to a history of prescription drug addiction (i.e. barbiturates, benzodiazepines, opiates)[,]" but that Mother " still denies that such use caused problems[,]" and that despite a history of child neglect resulting from her abuse of drugs and alcohol, Mother " continues to externalize blame" and to display a " lack of insight that [treatment] is even medically necessary[.]" Dr. Cantley stated that Mother's " willingness or ability to apply what she is learning may be short-lived outside the treatment program" unless Mother acknowledged a problem and accepted responsibility for her actions and specifically cautioned against Mother's continued use of the prescription narcotic tramadol, which was " ill-advised" given her " history of narcotic and opiate addiction[.]"
In April 2014, a YFS social worker submitted a report informing the district court that she had discussed Dr. Cantley's evaluation with Mother, and that Mother understood " that she was not to take [t]ramadol any longer as this was a controlled and addictive substance."
In June 2014, the court entered an order, finding that Mother was " making progress" but ordered her to comply with her case plan and with Dr. Cantley's recommendations.
In July 2014, the district court held a review hearing, speaking with Noah and Lindsay in chambers and hearing testimony from the social worker, Mr. and Ms. Smith, and Mother, and receiving into evidence a " Court Summary" and " Reasonable Efforts Report" prepared by YFS. The court also received a urinalysis showing Mother's positive test for tramadol on 23 April 2014.
In August 2014, the court entered an order changing Noah and Lindsay's permanent plan to guardianship and appointed Mr. and Ms. Smith as their guardians, based on the evidence and the recommendations of YFS and the guardian ad ...