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Hernandez v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

May 4, 2016



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

Jerald A. Sharum, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.


Appellant Christine Hernandez appeals the October 2015 order of the Washington County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her children S.B.1 (DOB 2-15-09) and S.B.2 (DOB 5-15-11).[1] On appeal, Christine argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision to terminate her parental rights. We affirm.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for dependency-neglect on July 11, 2014, alleging that S.B.1 and S.B.2 were at a substantial risk of serious harm as the result of abuse, neglect, and parental unfitness. An affidavit of Antwain Harris that accompanied the petition stated that DHS had opened a protective-services case on the family in January 2014 after it was discovered that S.B.1 had cuts, bruises, and welts on her body. Harris stated that Christine and her husband, Kevin Hernandez (the children's stepfather), had agreed to a protection plan, which included not allowing other adults to live in their home and not leaving the children with inappropriate caregivers. However, according to Harris, since the protective plan had been implemented, four other adults had been living in the home, and two of them slept in the same room as S.B.1 and S.B.2; the children were not being fed, bathed, or clothed; neighbors were feeding the children; Christine did not pick up S.B.1 from school when she was very sick; Christine did not take S.B.1 to school when she was well; the children were kept locked in their room for extended periods; Kevin punished the children "as if they were teenagers"-"hit[ting] the children in their hands extremely hard and ground[ing] them"; Christine allowed a mentally disabled child to watch S.B.1 and S.B.2; and there were allegations that S.B.1 had been sexually abused.

On July 24, 2014, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. In a second affidavit of Harris, he added that Christine was in violation of the protective plan because inappropriate adults were still living in the Hernandez home and were the sole child-care providers for the children. The trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody that day.

An adjudication order was entered in September 2014. The parties stipulated that the children were dependent-neglected. The concurrent goals were reunification of the family and adoption. Services were offered to Christine. She was ordered to visit the children; contact her caseworker weekly; have a psychological evaluation; participate in individual counseling; not use illegal drugs; submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment; complete parenting classes; obtain and maintain clean, safe, and stable housing; and demonstrate the ability to protect the children and keep them safe from harm.

In an amended review-hearing order filed in January 2015, the trial court found that the children remained in need of services and that returning them to Christine was not in their best interest. Christine was noted to be compliant with most of the case plan but had not demonstrated the ability to protect the children.

After a permanency-planning hearing conducted in May 2015, Christine was deemed to be compliant with the case plan and the trial court's orders; however, the court found that she had not addressed the issue that caused removal and that no substantial measurable progress had been made. The goal was set as adoption, and the trial court authorized DHS to file a petition for termination of parental rights.

DHS filed a petition to terminate parental rights, and at the September 2015 termination hearing Christine's counselor testified that Christine admitted she had made a mistake in allowing unsafe people to live with and care for her children. Christine's treatment included working on setting boundaries and learning to protect the children from people with whom she was not familiar. Christine denied allegations that Kevin had abused S.B.1 and S.B.2.

The psychological evaluations of Christine and Kevin were admitted at the hearing. Christine's evaluation revealed that she had a dependent-personality disorder, possibly due to having been sexually abused as a child by her father, her brother, her stepbrother, and her godfather; she had problems with immaturity, denial, and poor judgment; and she "seems to be extremely passive and to tolerate inappropriate friendships and behaviors from others." Kevin's psychological evaluation revealed that he had a personality disorder with narcissistic and antisocial traits; he "seems to be hostile, distrusting, and grandiose"; he demonstrated low levels of warmth and sympathy; and he "appears to view himself as a protector and to deny or minimize his problems with aggression and recklessness." A case report reflects that Kevin was arrested in September 2014 for aggravated assault after he pointed a gun at a man in a parking lot.

The children's therapist, Melissa Bedford, testified that Kevin admitted spanking the children and stated that he used fear to parent them. She testified that the fear-based parenting method was inappropriate because of the children's posttraumatic-stress disorder.[2] She also said that Kevin resisted her efforts to teach him alternative parenting methods. The therapist stated that ...

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