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Roberts v. Arkansas Department of Human Services and Minor Child

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

April 27, 2016



Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

Jerald A. Sharum, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee. Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.


Brittany Roberts appeals two orders of the Washington County Circuit Court in this termination-of-parental-rights case. On appeal, Brittany contends that the circuit court erred when it changed the case-plan goal from reunification to adoption in its permanency-planning order because a relative placement was available for her son L.R. She also argues that it was not in L.R.'s best interest to terminate her parental rights. We affirm.

I. Facts

On 27 June 2014, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) took emergency custody of L.R., a one-year-old child, after receiving notice that police officers had found drug paraphernalia in L.R.'s car seat and playpen during a drug raid in March 2014. Brittany submitted to a drug screen and tested positive for amphetamines, methamphetamine, opiates, and oxycodone. On June 30, DHS planned to return custody to Brittany and open a protective-services case, but the caseworker was unable to reach her. Brittany appeared the next day at a local DHS office and tested positive for oxycodone and PCP. DHS exercised another emergency hold on L.R. and filed a dependency-neglect petition in circuit court.

On July 11, the circuit court found that probable cause existed and that custody could not be returned to Brittany because her unresolved substance-abuse problems posed a risk of danger to L.R. The court ordered Brittany, among other things, to attend counseling, submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment and drug screens, and to maintain stable employment and housing. The court ordered DHS to allow Brittany supervised visits with L.R. twice a week and to set up and pay for transportation if needed. DHS was also ordered to conduct a home study on Brittany's sister, Elizabeth Roberts, "if interested in placement."

The court held an adjudication hearing in August 2014, which Brittany did not attend. The court issued a bench warrant for Brittany's arrest for failing to appear at the adjudication but later canceled the warrant. In its adjudication order, the court found that L.R. faced a substantial risk of serious harm from Brittany's neglect and parental unfitness. It ordered Brittany to show cause for failure to maintain contact with DHS, failure to attend counseling, failure to submit to drug screens, failure to submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment, failure to maintain stable housing and employment, and failure to keep DHS informed of her address and telephone number.

The court held a review hearing in December 2014 that Brittany, her sister Elizabeth Roberts, her maternal great-grandmother Lynn Coe, her maternal great-aunt Dawn Grala, and her maternal great-great aunt Sue Beaty attended. The circuit court noted that Brittany had missed four visits with L.R. and had been late to most of the rest of the visits. The court also observed that Brittany appeared to be under the influence of illegal drugs and that her testimony "at times made no sense and was rambling." Brittany tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines on the day of the review hearing. The court found that Brittany had been in partial compliance with the case plan by maintaining contact with DHS, keeping employment, participating in a psychological evaluation and counseling, and submitting to the drug-and-alcohol assessments. But the court also found that Brittany had been criminally cited for shoplifting since the last hearing and that she had been driving on a suspended license. The circuit court wrote, "Mom [Brittany Roberts] has acted so terrible in the home of Grandmom Coe causing Grandmom Coe to face eviction due to all of the yelling and screaming in the home[.]"

At the permanency-planning hearing held on 21 May 2015, Brittany admitted that she was not able to care for L.R. and asked the court to place her son with Dawn and Paul Grala, her great-aunt and uncle. From the bench, the court ordered that Brittany visit L.R. alone and stated, "I don't want mom bringing other family members to the visit." In its written order, the court ordered DHS to perform a home study on the Gralas, changed the case-plan goal to adoption, and authorized DHS to file a termination petition.

Brittany filed a motion for visitation on 3 June 2015 asking that the court allow the Gralas to visit L.R. No action was taken on the motion, and DHS filed a petition to terminate parental rights on 18 June 2015. The court convened a hearing on 27 August 2015 and received testimony related to DHS's termination petition and Brittany's request for relative visitation and placement. The circuit court ruled that DHS proved each of the statutory grounds alleged in its petition and that it was in the best interest of L.R. to terminate Brittany's parental rights. The court ruled that it was in L.R.'s best interest not to be placed with the Gralas. An order was entered on 26 October 2015 terminating Brittany's parental rights to L.R. Brittany has timely appealed the permanency-planning order and the termination order.

II. Permanency Planning

Brittany argues here that it was not in L.R.'s best interest to change the case goal from reunification to adoption at the permanency-planning hearing, as there was a possibility for relative placement with the Gralas. Brittany contends that the circuit court disallowing any other family members to visit L.R. and failing to rule on her motion for relative visitation ...

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