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Ware v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 19, 2016

QUINSHONDA WARE APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES and MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66JV-2010-73] HONORABLE LEIGH ZUERKER, JUDGE

          Dusti Standridge, for appellant.

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          RITA W. GRUBER, Judge

         Appellant, Quinshonda Ware, appeals from an order of the Sebastian County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her children D.S., born August 28, 2007; L.S., born October 9, 2008; S.S., born October 13, 2009; and M.S., born January 29, 2013. She presents three points on appeal: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the grounds for termination; (2) there was insufficient evidence that termination was in the children's best interest; and (3) the circuit court erred in terminating her parental rights when placement with a relative was being considered. We affirm the circuit court's order.

         The events that led to the termination began on September 19, 2014, when local law enforcement contacted the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) for assistance with appellant's four children. Appellant had left the children with her mother and failed to return. The grandmother subsequently called the local police, stating that she could no longer care for the children and had been unable to locate appellant. The DHS worker was also unable to make contact with appellant, and a 72-hour hold was placed on the children. The DHS caseworker's affidavit attached to the petition for emergency custody stated that there had been true findings of maltreatment against appellant in reference to her illegal drug use; that the children had been in foster care from January 22, 2010, through March 2011; and that St. Francis County DHS had opened a protective-services case on the family on July 14, 2014, as a result of appellant's drug use.

         The court granted DHS's petition for emergency custody and on December 3, 2014, entered an order adjudicating the children dependent-neglected based on neglect and parental unfitness due to appellant's having left her children and failing to retrieve them as previously arranged. The court also noted that appellant had refused to return calls from the grandmother and the police officers who were attempting to locate her. The court found that this put the children at a "substantial risk of serious harm."

         In a review order entered on May 11, 2015, the court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services to achieve the goal of reunification and that appellant had completed a psychological evaluation; visited regularly; and obtained housing, income, and transportation. The court also found, however, that appellant had not completed parenting classes or a drug-and-alcohol assessment and that she had tested positive for numerous illegal substances during the review period.

         In a permanency-planning order entered on August 6, 2015, the court stated that the goal of the case continued to be reunification with a concurrent goal of adoption following termination of parental rights. The court made it clear that placement of the children "must occur within a period that is consistent with the juveniles' developmental needs and shall be no later than three months from the date of this hearing [which occurred on July 21, 2015]." The court found that appellant had not complied with the case plan and court orders, specifically finding that she had not completed parenting classes, had not completed parenting-without-violence classes or any counseling recommended in her psychological evaluation, had refused outpatient treatment as recommended by her drug-and-alcohol assessment, and had tested positive for numerous illegal substances throughout the case.

         The court held a fifteen-month review hearing on October 27, 2015, and entered a fifteen-month permanency-planning hearing order on November 23, 2015, again finding that appellant had failed to complete parenting-without-violence classes or individual or family counseling as recommended by her psychological evaluation, had refused outpatient treatment as recommended by her drug-and-alcohol assessment, and had tested positive for numerous illegal substances throughout the case. No relatives were at either of these permanency-planning hearings, and the November order specifically stated that the children had not been placed in a relative's home.

         At the termination hearing held on January 29, 2016, and February 22, 2016, appellant admitted that she had continued to test positive for drugs throughout the case, had not completed parenting-without-violence classes, had failed to complete individual counseling, and had not completed a drug-and-alcohol treatment program. She testified that she had lived in three residences since the case had begun. She said that first she lived in a rental home for about nine months and then lived with her boyfriend for about nine months. She testified that she had not known at that time that her boyfriend had a criminal history. She had moved out of that home a week before the termination hearing and was living with a friend in a one-bedroom apartment. She testified that she had obtained a four-bedroom house to rent and was "due to move in" on the day of the termination hearing. She also testified that she did not own a vehicle but for several months had been driving a car that was owned by her employer. The car was not large enough to transport all of her children.

         Bonnie Zirbel, an adult-outpatient drug-and-alcohol counselor at Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center, testified that appellant had completed a drug-and-alcohol assessment in June 2015 and that the recommendation had been a phase II twelve-week outpatient program. Appellant refused the services. Appellant returned to the center in September and tested positive for Lorazepam, marijuana, and alcohol. She returned again in November and tested positive for marijuana and alcohol. On December 8, 2015, she tested positive for amphetamines, methamphetamine, THC, and alcohol and then for hydrocodone and THC on December 15, 2015. She continued to test positive for various substances in several drug screens conducted in January 2016. The center changed her treatment recommendation to a phase III sixteen-week outpatient program. Appellant briefly entered that program but continued to test positive for drugs and was then recommended for residential treatment. Ms. Zirbel testified that appellant was a no-show several times despite having been scheduled for intake on several occasions.

         Appellant's DHS caseworker, Lisa Walton, testified that appellant did not attend the recommended drug treatment, did not provide proof of having attended any NA/AA meetings, and did not attend any of the counseling recommended in her psychological evaluation. Ms. Walton also testified that the children were adoptable and that they would be subject to potential harm if returned to appellant due to her continuing drug issues and failure to complete the necessary services, including parenting classes, drug treatment, and counseling. Finally, ...


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