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Jones v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

December 14, 2016




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

          Lightle, Raney, Streit & Streit, LLP, by: Jonathan R. Streit, for appellant Amanda Self.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Jason Jones and Amanda Self appeal a Pulaski County Circuit Court order terminating their parental rights to their son, G.J. Jones challenges both the trial court's findings of statutory grounds and its best-interest determination, while Self challenges only the statutory grounds for termination. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (the Department) initiated contact with Jones and Self in March 2015, due to a report of inadequate supervision and substance misuse. The Department pursued efforts to keep G.J. in the home by means of a safety plan. Jones and Self agreed to remain drug free and that G.J. would be supervised by a sober adult at all times. In April 2015, both Jones and Self tested positive for illegal substances, and the Department opened a protective-services case. Eventually, G.J. was brought into care on May 1, 2015, due in part to the continued drug usage by the parents and the Self's failure to attend AA/NA meetings. The court adjudicated G.J. dependent-neglected on July 1, 2015, based on a stipulation of neglect and parental unfitness caused by the parents' drug use. The court continued custody in the Department and listed the goal of the case as reunification with a concurrent goal of adoption.

         The court conducted a review hearing in October 2015, where it changed the goal of the case to adoption with the concurrent goal of reunification. The court acknowledged that the initial goal was reunification and found that the Department had made reasonable efforts to provide services and to achieve that goal. Despite the Department's provision of services, the court noted that the parties were halfway through the case, and their issues were no closer to being resolved. The court stated that it wanted to see that the parents had stable housing and employment and that their medical issues were being addressed. The court found that neither Jones nor Self was in compliance with the case plan and that they were just playing games. The court noted that both parents needed to overcome their drug habits and that prescribed medications could affect their ability to parent as much as illegal substances could. Specifically, the court stated that Jones needed to bring proof of what medication he was on, why he needed it, and whether his conditions, diagnoses, and prognoses were conducive to being able to raise a child. The court indicated it suspected Jones was just trading one addiction for another. The court concluded that there was no evidence that Jones or Self had shown progress or any benefit from the services they had received; instead, they were just going through the motions. As a result, the court authorized the Department to file a termination petition in the case.

         The Department filed a petition to terminate parental rights on March 16, 2016-less than one year from the date of removal. As to both parents, the Department alleged the following grounds for termination: (1) subsequent other factors warranted termination and (2) aggravating circumstances (i.e. that there was little likelihood that services to the family would result in reunification). As to Self, the Department cited her suspected continued drug use, her lack of compliance with the court's orders and case plan, her lack of visitation with the child, her lack of stable housing, her failure to keep the Department informed of her location, and her failure to follow through with referred services as the basis for its subsequent-other-factors allegation. As to Jones, the Department listed the following subsequent factors: his failure to follow through with counseling, his continued drug usage, and his failure to visit the child. As to the aggravated-circumstances ground, the Department alleged that neither Jones nor Self had availed themselves of the services most likely to result in successful reunification and had failed to visit or provide any material or emotional support to the child.

         A combined permanency-planning and termination hearing was held on April 18, 2016. After hearing the testimony and reviewing all the evidence presented, the trial court entered an order terminating the parental rights of both Jones and Self. The court found that the Department had proved as to both parents that subsequent other factors existed to support termination, as well as the aggravated-circumstances ground. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the child; that he was adoptable; and that he would be subject to potential harm if returned to the custody of his parents. Both Jones and Self appeal from this order terminating their parental rights.

         II. Stand ...

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