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In re A.B.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 18, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: A.B., C.B., J.B., A.B.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 3 April 2017.

         Appeal by respondent mother from order entered 5 July 2016 by Judge Christy E. Wilhelm in Cabarrus County, Nos. 13 JT 121-24 District Court.

          Stephen A. Moore and H. Jay White for petitioner-appellee Cabarrus County Department of Human Services.

          Mark L. Hayes for respondent-appellant.

          Brandon J. Huffman for guardian ad litem.

          BRYANT, Judge.

         Where the trial court's findings and conclusions do not adequately account for respondent-mother's circumstances at the time of the termination hearing, as required to support a termination of her parental rights under N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1) or (2), we vacate and remand.

         On 22 October 2013, the Cabarrus County Department of Human Services ("CCDHS") obtained non-secure custody of the respondent-mother's[1] minor children A.B. (born October 2001), C.B. (born August 2006), J.B. (born March 2010), and A.B. (born November 2012) (collectively, "the children"). CCDHS filed petitions[2] alleging that they were neglected "due to ongoing substance abuse and domestic violence" by respondent-mother and respondent-father (collectively, "respondents"), which "place[d] their four young children at risk of harm" and created an environment injurious to their welfare. The petition described CCDHS's unsuccessful efforts to provide treatment services to respondents and implement a safety resource plan after substantiating reports of neglect and physical abuse, which reports included respondent-father's inappropriate physical discipline of respondents' two oldest daughters, who were then six and eleven years of age. The initial child protective services report was received on 25 February 2013.

         The trial court held a hearing on CCDHS's petitions on 13 March 2014 and adjudicated the children to be neglected and dependent juveniles. It maintained the children in CCDHS custody and directed that they remain in their current placements. In its disposition, the court identified "substance abuse, improper supervision, injurious environment and domestic violence involving the parents" as the "issues which led to [the children's] placement" outside the home. It found that "[t]he following community-level services [were] needed to strengthen the home situation and to remediate or remedy the issues which led to placement:

a. Psychological Evaluation
b. Drug/Alcohol Screens
c. Mental Health Treatment
d. Medication Management e. Parenting Education
f. Suitable [H]ousing[.]"

         The trial court imposed separate case plans for each respondent to address these concerns. Respondent-mother was ordered to obtain a new substance abuse evaluation through Genesis and follow any recommendations; submit to random drug screens as requested by CCDHS; comply with the recommendations of her parenting capacity evaluation by Dr. Susan Hurt; complete a court-approved parenting course and demonstrate skills learned in the course during visitation; comply with her visitation plan; attend the children's medical, dental, and school appointments; maintain bi-weekly contact with her CCDHS social worker, reporting any changes in address, employment, or other significant events; sign releases allowing CCDHS to obtain information from service providers; "maintain her own suitable housing, including utilities, appropriate for the placement of all the children" for at least six months; and maintain employment allowing her to provide financially for her children for a continuous four- to six-month period. The court established reunification as the permanent plan.

         The trial court ceased reunification efforts as to respondent-father in June 2015 and instituted concurrent permanent plans of reunification with respondent-mother only and adoption. At a subsequent review hearing on 13 August 2015, the court relieved CCDHS of further reunification efforts as to ...


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