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Edgar v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

May 17, 2017

CHELSEA EDGAR, APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN, APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE FRANKLIN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT [NO. 24JV-13-45] HONORABLE KENNETH D. COKER, JR., JUDGE

          Law Office of Joel W. Price, by: Joel W. Price, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Judge

         Appellant Chelsea Edgar appeals the October 26, 2016 order of the Franklin County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her minor children, A.E. and A.N. She argues that the trial court erred in granting the termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) petition because appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) failed to present sufficient evidence that TPR was in the children's best interest. Appellant argues that, contrary to the subsequent findings by the trial court at the TPR hearing that she was unlikely and unwilling to comply with the requirements to have custody restored to her, she, in fact, had demonstrated throughout the case her willingness and ability to comply, and her children had been returned to her. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Appellant was the victim of domestic violence from her now deceased husband, Bruce Nichols. During a domestic-abuse incident that occurred on October 4, 2013, appellant's then one-year-old minor child, A.E., received injuries when Nichols placed him on a window sill, and he fell through the window as Nichols fled the scene after appellant called the police. On October 4, 2013, ADHS interviewed appellant, Nichols, and other parties, and put an emergency, seventy-two-hour hold on both A.E. and A.N, based upon threat of harm, cuts, welts, and bruises, as well as inadequate supervision.

         ADHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect on October 9, 2013. The supporting affidavit sets forth the factual bases supporting the petition, including that appellant and Nichols had been drinking, had a car wreck, and when they got home, they got into a heated argument that escalated into domestic violence perpetrated by Nichols against appellant. Appellant revealed that while being attacked she defended herself with two knives, and the one-year-old child, A.E., was in the abuser's hands when she defended herself. Nichols acknowledged that the altercation had occurred, that he did have A.E. in his arms at some point in time, and that when appellant called law enforcement he placed the child in the window sill, let him fall into the room, and then fled.

         The trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on October 9, 2013, granting ADHS custody of the minor children. A probable-cause hearing was held on October 14, 2013, and an order was entered on October 23, 2013, with an amended probable-cause order being filed on October 25, 2013, wherein the trial court ordered custody of the children to be with ADHS. The parents received reasonable and supervised visitation contingent on having negative drug screens.

         Appellant was ordered to comply with existing orders, submit to random drug testing as requested by ADHS, attend and complete parenting classes, attend counseling (individual and couple), submit to drug-and-alcohol assessments and complete recommendations, keep ADHS advised of her address and phone number, attend domestic-violence classes, and obtain and maintain reliable transportation.

         On November 6, 2013, an adjudication order was entered, continuing custody of the children with ADHS and finding that there was threat of harm, inadequate supervision, and physical abuse (cuts, welts, and bruises). The goal was reunification. The children were placed in a provisional foster home with their maternal grandmother, Debbie Edgar, on December 17, 2013.

         Several court reports were submitted and review hearings were held during the initial pendency of the case, and a review order was entered on April 23, 2014, wherein the trial court found that the return of custody to appellant was contrary to the welfare of the children and that continued custody in ADHS was in the best interest of, and necessary for the protection, of the children's health and safety. The trial court noted that the parents had complied with the case plan in that they complied with random drug screenings, drug-and-alcohol assessments, and completed residential drug treatment. That order further ordered the parties to continue receiving services including attending and completing parenting classes, obtaining and maintaining stable and appropriate housing and gainful employment, attending counseling as recommended by a counselor or therapist, and attending and completing domestic-violence classes.

         On July 15, 2014, a review order was filed of record in which the trial court again found that the return of custody to appellant was contrary to the welfare of the children and that continued custody in ADHS was in the best interest of, and necessary for the protection of, the children's health and safety. The trial court noted that the parents had partially complied with the case plan in that they had completed parenting classes, attended domestic- violence classes regularly, completed drug-and-alcohol assessments, and maintained stable housing, and that Nichols had maintained stable employment. On August 1, 2014, a court report was filed recommending the children be placed in the parents' home for trial-home placement. In that report, ADHS noted that the parties had completed residential treatment and had also followed up on referrals to other agencies; that visitation was occurring at Debbie Edgar's home on a weekly basis, and that visits were going very well.

         A review order was entered on August 13, 2014, wherein the trial court determined that a trial-home placement would begin upon ADHS completing a walk-through of the home and noted that the parties had completed drug treatment, obtained housing and income, and complied with domestic-violence classes. The parents were ordered to continue to comply with previous trial court orders.

         On September 25, 2014, a court report was filed recommending that custody be returned to the parents and that a protective-service case be opened. On October 15, 2014, a review order was entered finding that return to the custody of the parents was no longer contrary to the welfare and safety of the children and that placement of the children in the custody of the parents was in their best interest. Custody was returned to the parents, with the trial court also noting that the parents had partially complied with the case plan in that they had completed all domestic-violence classes and all other requirements except counseling, on which they were working.

         On January 7, 2015, a court report was filed by ADHS recommending that the children remain in the home and the case be closed. This report also indicated that the parties were living in an appropriate home, had suitable transportation, and had income.

         On January 22, 2015, a review order was entered leaving custody with the parents and finding that the parents had completed parenting and domestic-violence classes and were attending both individual and marriage counseling. The review order also indicates that upon receipt of the counselor's ...


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