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In re T.H.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 18, 2019

IN RE: T.H. & M.H.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 30 May 2019.

          Appeal by Respondents from order entered 1 June 2018 by Judge Charlie Brown in Rowan County District Court, Nos. 16 JT 33-34

          Jane R. Thompson for Petitioner-Appellee Rowan County Department of Social Services.

          Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, by Katherine Barber-Jones, for guardian ad litem.

          Dorothy Hairston Mitchell for Respondent-Appellant Mother.

          Parent Defender Wendy C. Sotolongo, by Deputy Parent Defender Annick Lenoir-Peek, for Respondent-Appellant Father.

          DILLON, JUDGE.

         Respondents, Mother and Father of the minor children T.H. ("Tonya") and M.H. ("Madeline"), [1] appeal from the trial court's order terminating their parental rights to the children. We hold the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the children's best interests, and we hold it properly concluded grounds existed to terminate Father's parental rights based on neglect. We, therefore, affirm the trial court's order.

         I. Background

         Respondents' history with the Rowan County Department of Social Services ("DSS") dates back to 2011 due to substance abuse and mental health issues and their lack of proper care and supervision of the children. In November 2011, Mother tested positive for methadone and amphetamines at Tonya's birth, and Tonya had to remain in the hospital for weeks due to significant withdrawal symptoms. From 2011 to 2016, DSS received multiple reports regarding the family due to drug abuse and supervision issues.

         DSS most recently became involved with the family in early 2016 after receiving reports relating to Respondents' substance abuse and inappropriate living conditions. On 12 February 2016, DSS filed a juvenile petition alleging both juveniles to be neglected and dependent and took the children into non-secure custody.

         A week later, Respondents entered into an Out of Home Family Services Agreement (OHFSA) in which they agreed to obtain and maintain appropriate housing, obtain and maintain employment, complete substance abuse and mental health treatment, complete a psychiatric evaluation, submit to random drug screens, complete a parenting education course, resolve all pending legal issues, and refrain from criminal activity.

         Five weeks later, on 31 March 2016, the trial court entered a consent order, adjudicating the children neglected and dependent. The trial court found that Respondents had multiple pending criminal charges and continued to suffer from long-term, untreated substance abuse and mental health issues. The court also found that the children were living in an unsafe environment and were not receiving proper medical or dental care. The court ordered Respondents to comply with the components of their case plan. Over the next several months, however, both Mother and Father were in and out of jail.

         On 2 June 2016, Mother completed her substance abuse assessment and was recommended to complete forty (40) hours of structured group therapy and to see a psychiatrist. Mother attended one group session in December 2016 but did not attend another session. On 23 January 2017, Mother was arrested for obtaining a controlled substance by fraud or forgery after attempting to fill her recently deceased mother's prescription for Alprazolam.

         In June 2017, the trial court entered a permanency planning review order, changing the primary permanent plan to adoption with a secondary plan of reunification. The trial court found that Respondents had not made any progress on their case plans, finding that Respondents had not participated in any treatment recommendations, including any substance abuse or mental health services, that they had not engaged in any parenting education services, and that "[n]either parent understands the severity of their [criminal] charges or the effect their criminal behavior and incarcerations have on their children."

         A month later, in July 2017, DSS filed a petition to terminate Respondents' parental rights based on the grounds of neglect, willfully leaving the children in foster care without making reasonable progress to correct the conditions which led to the children's removal, and willfully failing to pay a reasonable portion ...


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