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In re C.N.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 6, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: C.N., A.N.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 27 June 2019.

          Appeal by respondent-mother from order entered 3 July 2018 by Judge J.H. Corpening II in New Hanover County District Court.

          No brief filed for petitioner-appellee New Hanover County Department of Social Services.

          Mary McCullers Reece for respondent-appellant mother.

          Womble Bond Dickenson (US) LLP, by Jessica Gorczynski, for guardian ad litem.

          TYSON, JUDGE.

         Respondent-mother appeals from an order terminating her parental rights to her minor daughters, C.N. ("Carrie") and A.N. ("Anne"). See N.C. R. App. P. 42(b) (pseudonyms are used to protect the identity of the juveniles). The order also terminates the parental rights of the legal father of A.N. and putative father of C.N. and the unknown father of C.N. No father is a party to this appeal. We reverse the trial court's order as it relates to Respondent-mother.

         I. Background

         On or about 28 June 2016, EMS and law enforcement responded to a 911 call regarding a child who had suffered chemical burns. Carrie was treated for corneal abrasions and chemical burns on her tongue in the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Emergency Department and was kept overnight for observation.

         Respondent-mother reported Carrie had pulled up on a table and spilled an open bottle of Mr. Clean liquid detergent onto herself. EMS and law enforcement who responded to the 911 call reported that conditions inside the home were dirty and in poor shape. Needles were found inside the home. Respondent-mother admitted to using marijuana within the previous week and had reported past incidents of domestic violence. Concerns were also expressed about Respondent-mother's mental health.

         Prior to the this incident, the New Hanover County Department of Social Services ("DSS") had received a report in May 2016 that Anne was found wandering alone behind a Roses retail store off of Carolina Beach Road. DSS obtained nonsecure custody of eleven-month-old Carrie and two-year-old Anne and filed a juvenile petition alleging they were neglected juveniles. Nonsecure custody with DSS was continued and the juveniles were placed with Respondent-mother's sister.

         Respondent-mother stipulated at the adjudication hearing to the allegations in the juvenile petition that Carrie and Anne were neglected, as they did not receive proper care, supervision or discipline and lived in an environment injurious to their welfare.

         The trial court adjudicated Carrie and Anne to be neglected juveniles based upon Respondent-mother's stipulation. The trial court determined their best interests were served for legal custody and placement authority to remain with DSS and to continue their placement in the Respondent-mother's sister's home.

         The trial court also adopted the recommendations of DSS and the guardian ad litem ("GAL") for Respondent-mother's case plan and ordered Respondent-mother to: (1) obtain and maintain stable income; (2) obtain and maintain stable housing; (3) complete a mental health assessment; (4) comply with all recommendations; (5) sign releases for DSS and GAL; (6) submit to random drug screens; (7) successfully complete substance abuse treatment; and (8) successfully complete parenting classes. Respondent-mother was scheduled for weekly supervised visitation.

         A permanency planning hearing was held on 3 May 2017, after which the trial court entered its order on 23 June 2017. DSS asserted Respondent-mother was "not actively participating in her treatment plan," had not obtained stable housing, and had not shown up for the majority of the requested drug screens. Respondent-mother responded that she had completed her comprehensive clinical assessment ("CCA") and parenting classes, but had difficulties with a cell phone. The trial court changed the primary permanent plan for Carrie and Anne from reunification to legal guardianship with Respondent-mother's sister with a concurrent plan of reunification.

         Another permanency planning hearing was held on 26 September 2017, after which the trial court entered an order on 13 November 2017, followed by an amended permanency planning order on 16 January 2018. The trial court found that the juveniles were "currently placed in foster care after their kinship placement with [their] maternal aunt [was] disrupted[, ]" and that "Respondent-[m]other is not actively participating in her treatment plan[, ]" "has not consistently engaged in services[, ]" and "does not show up for the majority of the requested drug screens." The order reflects Respondent-mother had submitted proof of employment, secured housing, and asserted that transportation was an issue and requested bus passes.

         The trial court ordered DSS to provide bus passes to Respondent-mother and ordered a home study on Respondent-mother's home. The court changed the primary permanent plan for Carrie and ...


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