in the Court of Appeals 3 October 2019.
by Respondents from order entered 28 June 2018 by Judge Ali
B. Paksoy and order entered 27 July 2018 by Judge Jeannette
R. Reeves in District Court, Lincoln County, Nos. 17 JA 72-74
Vaughan for Petitioner-Appellee Lincoln County Department of
Thomas Diepenbrock for Respondent-Appellant Father.
Defender Wendy C. Sotolongo, by Deputy Parent Defender Annick
Lenoir-Peek, for Respondent-Appellant Mother.
Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, by Michael J. Crook and Joshua
J. Morales, for Guardian ad Litem.
appeal from an order adjudicating the minor child F.C. to be
an abused, neglected, and dependent juvenile and the minor
children S.G. and A.G. to be neglected and dependent
juveniles. Respondents also appeal from a disposition and
permanency planning order requiring them to engage in
services and establishing visitation. We affirm the
adjudication order, affirm in part and vacate in part the
disposition/permanency planning order, and remand for entry
of an appropriate visitation order.
is the mother of all three children. She is in a relationship
with Respondent-Father, who is the father of S.G. and A.G.
F.C.'s father is deceased. On 18 July 2017, the Lincoln
County Department of Social Services ("DSS")
received a report alleging that three-year-old F.C. was seen
with a black eye that resulted from Respondent-Father pushing
him down and hitting him. A social worker went to
Respondents' home to investigate, but Respondents
appeared to be intentionally evading the social worker, until
the social worker called law enforcement, and Respondents
finally opened their door. Respondents both denied to the
social worker that Respondent-Father hit F.C., instead
claiming that F.C. had been running through the house with
the dog when he tripped and hit his head on a coffee table.
The social worker informed Respondent-Father that he would
have to leave the residence while the matter was being
investigated. The social worker stayed at the home until
next day, another social worker informed Respondent-Mother
that Respondent-Father could not have contact with F.C. until
F.C. was given a forensic interview. F.C. was seen by Dr.
Melissa Will ("Dr. Will"), who found "a red
patterned bruise covering [F.C.'s right] forehead
(pattern of rectangle with 3 vertic[al] lines within it),
also unpatterned bruise lateral to this; also bruise of his
upper eyelid[.]" It was Dr. Will's opinion that the
unusual pattern of the bruise was inconsistent with
Respondent-Mother's explanation that F.C. hit his head on
a coffee table.
decided that Respondent-Father could not have any contact
with the children. "Respondent-Mother was asked to take
all three children and keep  Respondent-Father away from
them.  Respondent-Mother wanted to be with
[Respondent-Father] and preferred that [Respondent-Father]
come home and the three children go somewhere else. 
Respondent-Mother would not agree to keep the children away
from [Respondent-Father]." The children were placed with
a paternal relative, who later became unable to care for
July 2017, DSS filed petitions alleging that F.C. was an
abused, neglected, and dependent juvenile; and alleging that
S.G. and A.G. were neglected and dependent juveniles. DSS
obtained nonsecure custody of the children the same day. The
trial court held an adjudicatory hearing on 20 February and
15 April 2018, after which the trial court entered a 28 June
2018 order adjudicating F.C. to be abused and all three
children to be neglected and dependent.
trial court conducted a disposition and permanency planning
hearing on 17 July 2018. The trial court's 27 July 2018
order established a visitation plan of "one visit each
month" with Respondents' respective children.
Contact between Respondent-Father and F.C. was to be based on
the recommendations of F.C.'s therapist. The trial court
also ordered Respondents to submit to substance abuse and
mental health assessments and follow all recommendations,
participate in parenting classes and demonstrate skills
learned during visits, obtain and maintain safe and stable
housing, and submit to random drug screens. Respondents
argues that the trial court erred by adjudicating F.C. as an
abused juvenile. Both Respondents argue that the trial
court erroneously adjudicated S.G. and A.G. as neglected
juveniles. We address each argument in turn.
Standard of Review
reviewing an adjudication of abuse, neglect, or dependency,
this Court determines whether the trial court's findings
of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence and
whether the trial court's legal conclusions are supported
by its findings of fact. See In re CM. & M.H.M.,
198 N.C.App. 53, 59, 678 S.E.2d 794, 798 (2009). Findings of
fact which are "supported by clear and convincing
competent evidence are deemed conclusive [on appeal], even
where some evidence supports contrary findings."
Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). The
trial court's conclusions of law are reviewed de
novo. In re J.S.L., 177 N.C. App. 151, 154, 628 S.E.2d
387, 389 (2006) (citation omitted).
trial court concluded that F.C. was abused under N.C. G.S.
§ 7B-101(1)(a) and (b) (2017). These subsections define
an abused juvenile, in relevant part, as one whose parent:
a. Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the juvenile a
serious physical injury by other than accidental means;
b. Creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of
serious physical injury to the juvenile by other than
first contends that neither the evidence nor the trial
court's findings support its conclusion that F.C.
suffered a "serious physical injury." He argues
that F.C. did not suffer the type of "significant
physical injuries" that provided support for the abuse
adjudications upheld by this Court in cases such as
In re Hayden, 96 N.C.App. 77, 83, 384
S.E.2d 558, 562 (1989) (child "suffered multiple burns
over a wide portion of her body") and In re
T.H.T., 185 N.C.App. 337, 345-46, 648 S.E.2d 519, 525
(2007) (child suffered skull fracture), affd as
modified, 362 N.C. 446, 665 S.E.2d 54 (2008).
the cases cited by Respondent-Father did not establish a
minimum threshold for a serious injury. As
this Court has explained, "the nature of an injury is
dependent upon the facts of each case[.]" In re
L.T.R. & J.M.R., 181 N.C.App. 376, 383, 639 S.E.2d
122, 126 (2007). Using this standard, we previously upheld an
abuse adjudication when a three-year-old child suffered
"a dark, six-inch bruise, which lasted well over one
week, on his right thigh." Id. at 382, 639
S.E.2d at 126.
case, the trial court made a number of findings about
three-year-old F.C.'s injury. He "had a significant
bruise on his forehead, above his eye" when a DSS social
worker observed him on the night of 18 July 2017. Then,
during a medical examination the following day, F.C. was
found to have "bruising on his right forehead with an
unusual pattern[.] It was a red patterned bruise covering his
right forehead, the pattern of a rectangle with three
vertical lines within it. There was also a patterned bruise
lateral to this, in addition to a bruise on his upper
eyelid." A 21 July 2017 examination "revealed
bruising to the right eyelid and on [F.C.'s] forehead was
a knot, raised, with a very distinct patterned bruise."
Finally, the trial court found that "[t]he ...