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Forbes v. Arkansas Department of Human Services Appellee

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 26, 2016



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

          CLIFF HOOFMAN, Judge

         Appellant Natalie Forbes appeals from the order of the Garland County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her minor daughter, Y.F. On appeal, Forbes challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the ground for termination. We affirm.

         On September 30, 2014, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) began investigating a complaint that Y.F. (DOB 11/2/13) was in danger due to extreme environmental neglect. Forbes was incarcerated at the time of the complaint, and DHS responded to the home of Y.F.'s maternal grandmother, Maxine Forbes, where Y.F. was residing. DHS discovered that there were thirteen cats and two dogs living in the twenty-one-foot trailer, that the cats had no litter box and used the top of the cabinets as a bathroom, and that the home had an overwhelming odor of animal urine and feces. DHS also noted that Y.F.'s bottle smelled strongly of spoiled milk and cat urine. DHS removed Y.F. from the home on October 1, 2014, and a petition for emergency custody was filed. The circuit court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on October 3, 2014.

         Probable cause for the removal was found on October 7, 2014. The circuit court noted that DHS had been involved with the family since July 2014 and had provided supportive services such as formula, cleaning supplies, and referrals for food stamps and WIC; however, the court found that these services did not prevent removal because Forbes was incarcerated and had left Y.F. with the maternal grandmother whose home posed a great danger to the child's health and safety due to environmental neglect. Forbes was ordered to follow court orders and the case plan; to demonstrate the ability to properly care for Y.F. and to provide for her health, safety, and welfare; to submit to random drug screens; to complete parenting classes; to submit to individual counseling; to obtain and maintain stable employment for a period of six months; and to obtain and maintain stable housing for a period of six months.

         Y.F. was adjudicated dependent-neglected on January 7, 2015, on the basis of neglect caused by Forbes's failure or inability to provide for the necessary physical, mental, and emotional needs of the child, including the failure to provide a shelter that did not pose a risk to Y.F.'s health and safety. In addition to the previous court orders, Forbes was also ordered to ensure that her home was environmentally safe and clean.

         A review hearing was held in April 2015. The circuit court found that Forbes had been complying with the case plan and court orders and that she had made progress toward alleviating the conditions that had caused the removal of Y.F. At the next review hearing in June 2015, the court found Forbes in partial compliance although she had been arrested and had tested positive for THC.

         The permanency-planning hearing was held in September 2015. The circuit court found that Forbes had been making significant, measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in the case plan and had worked diligently toward reunification. The court indicated that the goal of the case was to authorize a plan to return Y.F. to the custody of Forbes, and Forbes was ordered to complete all requirements of the case plan, to submit to DHS personnel in her home to assist with appropriate cleaning and environmental needs, and to maintain an appropriate environment for Y.F. The circuit court authorized weekly unsupervised visitation with Y.F. at Forbes's home, as long as the home was environmentally appropriate.

         At the fifteen-month-review hearing in December 2015, the circuit court found that Forbes was only in partial compliance with the case plan. Forbes had not demonstrated stability because she was now unemployed, she had failed to pay her outstanding rent, and she was on the verge of being evicted from her current residence. The court set concurrent case goals of reunification and adoption and again ordered Forbes to obtain and maintain stable employment and safe housing. The court authorized DHS to file a petition to terminate parental rights.

         A petition to terminate Forbes's parental rights was filed on December 30, 2015. The sole ground for termination alleged in the petition was the twelve-month failure-to-remedy ground found in Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) (Repl. 2015). The petition further alleged that termination was in Y.F.'s best interest.

         The termination hearing was held on March 16, 2016. At the hearing, Bonnie Bryant, Forbes's therapist, testified that she began counseling Forbes in September 2015 to address her issues with independent living, managing a household and a budget, managing her relationships with others, and parenting skills. Bryant indicated that during her first session with Forbes on September 29, 2015, Forbes was supposed to have unsupervised visitation with Y.F. at her home. However, the home was not appropriate for the child because there was broken glass on the floor, there were empty liquor and beer bottles beside the bed, and there were two unknown males present in the one-room studio apartment. While Bryant indicated that the condition of Forbes's home was appropriate during her subsequent visits, she testified that she discharged Forbes in November 2015 because Forbes had missed three counseling appointments. According to Bryant, Forbes was codependent on her mother and had failed to make progress in establishing healthy boundaries in her relationship with her mother. Bryant testified that Forbes still needed counseling to address those issues and to improve her independent living skills.

         Jamie Moran, the DHS supervisor assigned to the family, testified that at the time of Y.F.'s removal, Forbes and Y.F. had been living with the grandmother, whose home was in a state of extreme environmental neglect. Moran indicated that Y.F. had remained out of Forbes's custody for seventeen months and that despite offering every service that DHS could possibly offer to Forbes, she had not been able to achieve a stable home and employment. Although Forbes had been working hard and had obtained an appropriate home and a job at the time of the permanency-planning hearing in September 2015, Moran testified that shortly after that hearing, Forbes lost her home and became unstable again. Moran indicated that Forbes had moved back in with her mother by the time of the December 2015 fifteen-month-review hearing. Since that hearing, Moran testified that Forbes had not made any further progress in remedying the primary concern in the case, which was Forbes's lack of environmental stability. She indicated that Forbes had worked at six different jobs and had lived in seven different homes, including several motels, since the case had been opened. In addition, Moran indicated that Forbes had tested ...

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