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Rodgers v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

November 30, 2016




          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

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

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

         Darlene Rodgers appeals the order of the Mississippi County Circuit Court that terminated her parental rights to her adopted child, C.R. Rodgers challenges the statutory grounds for termination. We affirm.

         On 30 October 2014, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect of nine-year-old C.R. The accompanying affidavit explained that on October 28, a call to the child-abuse hotline reported that C.R. refused to get on the school bus to go home because he was scared. The caller said that C.R. had been whipped at the bus stop and had approximately twenty bruises on his arms, legs, and back that were in the process of healing. The police investigated, and Rodgers was arrested for second-degree domestic battery.

         The circuit court granted the petition for emergency custody and on November 5 found probable cause to continue DHS's custody of C.R. Rodgers was ordered to complete parenting classes, watch "The Clock is Ticking" video, maintain stable housing, obtain and maintain stable employment and/or income, and attend anger-management classes. On November 20, C.R. was adjudicated dependent-neglected due to cuts/welts and bruises on his arms, legs, and back. In addition to the above requirements, Rodgers was ordered to comply with a no-contact order issued in her criminal case and to submit a 2011 psychological evaluation to her attorney or her DHS caseworker.

         The circuit court reviewed the case in February 2015 and found that Rodgers had stable income and housing but still needed to complete parenting classes and watch "The Clock is Ticking" video. Another review order in August 2015 noted that Rodgers had completed parenting and anger-management classes and had watched the required video. That order found that the case plan was moving toward an appropriate permanency plan and that the goal of the case would continue to be reunification with Rodgers.

         In October 2015, however, the circuit court held a permanency-planning hearing and changed the goal of the case to termination of parental rights and adoption. In its order, the court found that C.R. had been out of his mother's home for twelve months, had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, and "continue[d] to have panic attacks and recurrent nightmares in regards to being placed back with his mother." On October 29, DHS and C.R.'s attorney ad litem filed a joint petition for termination of parental rights alleging that (1) C.R. had been "chronically abused" and "subjected to extreme and repeated cruelty in the form of both mental and physical abuse, " and (2) the conditions that resulted in C.R.'s being removed had not been remedied by Rodgers despite a meaningful effort by DHS to remedy those conditions.

         The court held a termination hearing on 26 February 2016. Chelsea Fife, a therapist with Families, Inc., testified that C.R. had been her client since June 2015. Fife explained that C.R. had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, that she helped him with coping skills and identifying his feelings, and that his therapy was going well. Fife said that when C.R. is asked about Rodgers, he shakes and cries and "will go from smiling and being a happy child to being completely fearful." C.R. told Fife that he did not wish to return to Rodgers's home and that he was "scared to go back." Fife recommended that C.R. not be returned to Rodgers's custody. She also noted that C.R. was "very comfortable" with his foster parents.

         Greg Watson, the DHS caseworker assigned to the case, testified that he had regular contact with Rodgers throughout the case and that she had completed all services required of her. He said that he last spoke with Rodgers six weeks previously about C.R.'s coming home, and Rodgers stated that C.R. "would have to admit to what he had done before she would let him come back home." Rodgers explained to Watson that C.R. would get up in the middle of the night and steal food out of the refrigerator and that "[h]e needed to admit to what he had done." Watson testified that Rodgers had not visited C.R. because of the no-contact order and that Rodgers was scheduled to go to court on her criminal charges in April. Finally, Watson said that C.R. was doing well at school and was "usually happy . . . like a normal kid" around his foster parents.

         Sylvia Ware, a DHS supervisor, testified that she was familiar with this case and had spoken with Rodgers about the progression of the case. Ware stated that Rodgers admitted spanking C.R. with a belt. Rodgers also told Ware that C.R. could come home and that she would "put the belt away, " but "he needs to remember that the belt can always come back out." Ware was also concerned with Rodgers's statement to her that C.R. had a "demon possessed spirit."

         Tyler Dunegan, C.R.'s foster dad, testified that C.R. was placed with his family in October 2014 and that he wished to adopt C.R. Tyler stated that C.R. has minor behavioral problems, "typical ten-year-old boy behavior; but nothing out of the ordinary." Tyler explained that when he first arrived, C.R. had frequent nightmares and did not sleep well, but that has improved. Tyler said that he and his wife Carolyn take C.R. to the Calvary Baptist Church in Osceola and that C.R. "loves the church family." He also stated that C.R. likes to play sports and is very social. He described C.R. as "happy" and "full of joy." Tyler also explained that he and his wife now have two other ...

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