One of the practice areas in which there is an increased need for pro bono volunteers is family law — and we like to routinely recognize those attorneys who provide their time free of charge for impoverished clients whose lives are irrevocably changed by the effort. North Carolina attorney Chris Edwards has won a recent family law case on appeal that ended a mother’s parental rights on the basis that she was unfit.
The name of the child that Edwards fought for has not been released.
The mother became pregnant after a period of sexual abuse when she was only thirteen years old. When she gave birth, her child was placed into foster care. She was placed in the care of the Department of Social Services (DSS). The goal of DSS was to eventually place the child into the grown mother’s care — but the court would ultimately decide whether or not that was to happen.
She was old enough to leave the custody of DSS in 2017. Two years later, in April of 2019, the DSS would argue in court that she should have her parental rights terminated. They cited NC General Statute 7B-1111, saying that the mother’s “neglect, willful failure to make reasonable progress, willful failure to pay a reasonable portion of her child’s cost of care, dependency, and willful abandonment” had contributed to the decision.
According to DSS, the mother had halted her education. She had dismissed parenting classes and therapy sessions, both of which were required for reunification with her child. DSS said she “disobeyed the rules of her placements and ran away.”
In September 2019, DSS won the case and the mother’s parental rights were terminated. She filed a notice of appeal.
Edwards won the case when the appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision, writing: “The TPR order to determine whether the trial court’s finding of facts supports its conclusion. [The mother] willfully left [the child] in foster care or placement outside the home for more than twelve months.”
Edwards said, “The Court does not decide to terminate the rights of a parent lightly, and it shouldn’t. Despite being a difficult and heartbreaking case, we must always put the best interests of the child first, and the Court’s decision reaffirms that.”
How the mother responded to the verdict is unknown. Her supporters pointed out that she has led a difficult life as the result of her own abuse, and the public should not be so quick to judge her as unfit or uncaring. She will continue to make progress at her own pace and still hopes to someday be reunited with her child.