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In re E.B.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 17, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: E.B., M.B., A.B.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 August 2017.

         Appeal by respondent-father from orders entered 22 November 2016 by Judge Frederick Wilkins in Rockingham County No. 14 JT 182-84 District Court.

          Beverley A. Smith, for Petitioner-Appellee Rockingham County Department of Social Services.

          Lauren Golden, for guardian ad litem.

          Peter Wood, for Respondent-Appellant father.

          MURPHY, JUDGE.

         "Harvey"[1] the father of juveniles E.B., M.B., and A.B. ("Ernie, " "Molly, " and "Annie, "[2]), appeals from an order terminating his parental rights. The trial court declared that Harvey had willfully abandoned his children and that he made no reasonable progress on the case plan, thus rendering them neglected. After careful review, we reverse and remand for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         Background

         On 10 December 2014, the Rockingham County Department of Social Services ("DSS") filed a petition alleging that Ernie, Molly, and Annie were neglected and dependent juveniles due to "severe and ongoing domestic violence" in their home. DSS stated that the family came to its attention after Harvey assaulted a child who was in his home. That child, who is not one of the juveniles who is the subject of this action, entered DSS's care and informed DSS that there was domestic violence in Harvey's home. DSS learned that on 5 June 2013, Ernie was injured when his mother ("Gert"[3]) threw a metal cup which hit Ernie in the face. Harvey and Gert gave differing stories as to whether Gert intended to throw the cup at Eddie or at Harvey. Harvey's family was referred for in-home services.

         On 8 December 2014, a social worker went to Harvey's home for a scheduled visit to provide services. During a check of the home, the DSS worker heard an altercation taking place inside of the home and decided to call the police. On arrival, the social worker observed a lamp, and then wooden pieces from a broken table thrown from a window in the residence. The social worker called the police. Harvey and Gert later acknowledged to the social worker that they had been in an altercation. All three juveniles were present during the incident. Harvey and the juveniles were transported to the paternal grandmother's home with, according to DSS, "the understanding that they were to remain there for the time being while new arrangements were made to address the ongoing domestic violence."

         On 10 December 2014, DSS social worker Jordan Houchins went to the residence to discuss the 8 December 2014 incident with Gert. The social worker found their home in ruins. There were multiple holes in walls in the residence; all of the tables in the house had been destroyed; and there were broken dishes on the floor of the juveniles' bedrooms. These conditions resulted from numerous domestic violence incidences. Gert told the social worker that she and Harvey had hit each other during these altercations. Gert, however, refused to seek a domestic violence protection order and did not want to go to a shelter. When the social worker examined the juveniles' bedrooms, she found Harvey hiding under a blanket in one of the beds. Harvey claimed to be sleeping, and denied that he was hiding from the social worker. He became belligerent when confronted by the social worker. The social worker attempted to assume emergency custody of the children. Harvey then picked up Molly, an infant, and left the residence. Molly was not appropriately dressed as she was wearing only a "onesie" and it was a "bitterly cold morning." Law enforcement subsequently located Harvey and Molly several blocks from the residence. DSS subsequently obtained non-secure custody of all the juveniles.

         On 10 November 2015, the trial court adjudicated the juveniles to be neglected and dependent after Harvey and Gert admitted to the altercations alleged in the petition. The trial court ordered Harvey to comply with a case plan, which included: (1) complete a domestic violence offender treatment/education and counseling; (2) complete an approved parenting class; (3) submit to a mental health assessment and comply with all recommendations; (4) obtain and maintain suitable housing for the juveniles; (5) obtain employment with income sufficient to provide for the basic needs of the juveniles; and (6) obtain transportation sufficient to provide for Harvey's and the juveniles' basic needs.

         The trial court initially ordered a permanent plan of reunification for the juveniles. The trial court later changed the primary permanent plan to adoption because Harvey and Gert "continue[d] to engage in domestic violence." The secondary plan remained reunification. On 28 September 2016, DSS filed a petition to terminate Harvey's and Gert's parental rights pursuant to ...


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