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Selsor v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 15, 2017



          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.

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge.

         Lydia Selsor and Edward Troutman appeal the August 25, 2016 termination of their parental rights to their two minor children, five-year-old K.S. and one-year-old L.T., [1]arguing that termination was not in the children's best interest. We affirm.

         I. Relevant Facts

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with this family on February 5, 2015, when L.T. was born with drugs in her system. Both Lydia and Edward tested positive for methamphetamine. K.S. was living with a neighbor in unsafe housing. The five-year-old had poor hygiene and tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines subsequent to his removal. DHS exercised an emergency hold, stating concerns of drug use, lack of employment, and lack of stable housing.

         The parents stipulated to probable cause on February 19, 2015, and to findings of dependency-neglect on March 31, 2015. In addition to the dependency-neglect finding, the court also found that the children had been exposed to aggravated circumstances as contemplated in the statute.[2]

         The case proceeded through four permanency-planning hearings. Lydia and Edward stayed clean throughout the case, complied with their case plan, and had completed all the services required by the November 3, 2015 hearing.

         At the conclusion of the January 12, 2016 permanency-planning hearing, the circuit court believed the parents had made enough progress to increase visitation, commenting that if everything went well it would even "entertain an agreed order returning custody prior to the next hearing." There were two weekend visitations before the attorney ad litem filed a motion to stop them, alleging that the parents were facing eviction, did not have electricity, had left a puppy by itself at the home for four to five days, and that the children came back smelling like cigarettes. DHS had suspended visitation for the upcoming weekend but disagreed that weekend visitation should be stopped altogether. It asserted that the parents had made remarkable progress to this point, the electricity was back on, the landlord was willing to work with the parents, and the puppy had been stranded over the weekend due to the snow storm. DHS contended that this was just a setback, and that it did not believe the children would be at risk if visitation continued. The trial court granted the ad litem's motion.

         The trial court changed the goal of the case to termination of parental rights at the May 3, 2016 permanency-planning hearing, citing the parents' inability, despite 15 months of services, to secure and maintain appropriate, stable housing. The court also stated the parents had judgment issues and that "there are no additional services that will actually improve their lack of insight."

         DHS filed a petition to terminate Lydia and Edward's parental rights, and a hearing was held on July 26, 2016. At trial, the court heard testimony from K.S.'s occupational therapist about K.S.'s developmental disability and how important structure and routine were to managing it. The DHS caseworker testified that the parents had adequate income and had completed all the services, but the children could still not return to their parents' custody because Lydia and Edward did not have a home. She further discussed how she had referred the parents to the housing authority, and they had been approved but did not move in because they did not have a $500 cash deposit available. She testified that DHS did not offer cash assistance because she believed they did have the deposit, and that they just did not want to pay the $200 per month it would cost to rent it. Lydia testified that she would have taken the apartment and that the $500 deposit was all that was standing between her and her children at that time. Psychological reports finding both parents to have below-average cognitive abilities were also admitted.

         In its order, the court found that the parents had never obtained stable housing- they had lived in at least four different cities since the case had been opened-and still did not have a place of their own by the termination hearing. This was especially troublesome to the court considering that K.S. suffered developmental delays that required a consistent routine and stability. It found the argument that the parents just needed a little more time and deposit money disingenuous. Even if the parents had requested cash assistance, the court reasoned, it may not have ordered it because the parents have adequate income, had a year and a half to find stable housing, and a ...

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