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Jones v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 1, 2017



          Ogles Law Firm, P.A., by: John Ogles, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge.

         Jamie Jones appeals the April 7, 2016 order of the Lonoke County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her son, B.M. (born September 12, 2011). On appeal, Jones argues that the circuit court's termination order is clearly erroneous.[1] We affirm.

         On February 7, 2014, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody and dependency-neglect, alleging that Jones's older son, A.J., who was seventeen years old at the time, was dependent-neglected as a result of "neglect, parental unfitness and no legal caretaker." The affidavit attached to the petition alleged that on February 5, 2014, the circuit court ordered DHS to take A.J. into custody because Jones had failed to appear for her court appearance that day, leaving A.J. without an appropriate caretaker or guardian. An emergency order was entered on February 7, 2014.

         On February 20, 2014, DHS filed another petition for ex parte emergency custody, alleging Jones's "neglect, parental unfitness, environmental neglect, and drug use" with respect to B.M., who was then two and half years old. The affidavit attached to this petition alleged that after the circuit court removed A.J. from Jones's custody, it ordered DHS to conduct a safety assessment on B.M. On February 18, 2014, a DHS caseworker visited Jones's residence, but Jones and B.M. were not home. Several men were there loading a U-Haul. The caseworker entered the home and observed drug needles and pipes on the floor and the couch. The caseworker called Jones and requested that she return home with B.M., but Jones refused and hung up. When the caseworker gained custody of B.M. the following day, she observed that he was in "filthy" pajamas and had a "bad odor." Jones tested positive for methamphetamine. An emergency order was entered on February 20, 2014.

         At a March 18, 2014 adjudication hearing, Jones stipulated that B.M. and A.J. were dependent-neglected "based on inadequate supervision due to [her] drug use." Jones was ordered to participate in and complete parenting classes, individual and family counseling, random drug screens, residential drug treatment, a drug-and-alcohol assessment, and a forensic-psychological evaluation; obtain and maintain stable employment and housing; comply with the case plan; cooperate and maintain contact with DHS; attend visitations; demonstrate improved parenting; and remain drug free.

         Review hearings were held on April 29 and August 26, 2014. The review orders from those hearings provided that return of the children to the custody of Jones was contrary to their welfare, that Jones was to comply with the case plan, that the goal of the case was reunification, and that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide services to achieve the goal. One of the review orders provided that Jones "is . . . doing inpatient substance[-]abuse treatment and is doing well. . . . Mom is compliant at this time." The review order provided that due to Jones's progress, she was given temporary custody of B.M. while she resided at the substance-abuse facility. At that time, Jones was also permitted a two-hour weekly visit with A.J. The order further provided that A.J. was allowed weekend visits with his aunt, Tammy Humble.

         On January 2, 2015, DHS filed a motion for ex parte emergency change of custody, alleging that Jones had violated the terms of her inpatient substance-abuse-treatment program and put B.M. in imminent danger. The affidavit attached to the motion stated that on December 29, 2014, Jones, Mesoner, and B.M. joined Humble and A.J. over the holiday. Humble reported to DHS that A.J. admitted having consumed alcohol at Humble's home and that Jones and Mesoner had purchased it for him. An emergency order returning B.M. to DHS custody was entered on January 2, 2015.

         Jones continued to work on the case plan. On March 10, 2015, a permanency-planning order was entered by the circuit court that provided that it was in the best interest of B.M. to return him to Jones because she was complying with the case plan and working diligently toward reunification and that termination of parental rights was not in his best interest. The court also ordered Jones to complete counseling and allowed visits with B.M. twice a week.

         A fifteen-month review order was filed on June 30, 2015. The circuit court continued the goal of reunification with Jones "because the mom has been complying with the case plan and orders of this court and has made significant measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in the case plan, and the mom has been diligently working towards reunification." On August 11, 2015, an agreed order was entered stating that Jones's hair-follicle test was negative and that it was in the best interest of B.M. and A.J. to have unsupervised visits with Jones for a minimum of two hours per week.

         On September 16, 2015, a review order stated that Jones had been compliant and the goal remained reunification. This order awarded Jones a sixty-day trial placement with A.J. with several conditions, including but not limited to the following: A.J. must wear an ankle monitor at all times;[2] A.J. must attend school; and if ...

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