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Dowdy v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 4, 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.

          N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge.

         Tegan Dowdy appeals the Crawford County Circuit Court order terminating her parental rights to her three children. Dowdy argues that the circuit court clearly erred in finding sufficient proof of grounds for termination and in finding that termination was in the children's best interest. We affirm.

         Four-year-old JW, three-year-old AD, and nine-day-old TA were taken into custody by the Department of Human Services (DHS) in December 2015. A protective-services case had been opened in June 2015 after it had been determined that Dowdy's boyfriend had caused marks on AD's legs. Both Dowdy and her boyfriend tested positive for THC and were offered services, but they did not participate. In October 2015, there was a report that Dowdy had slapped JW in the face, leaving a handprint. Prior to TA's birth, Dowdy had been evicted from her home and was staying with friends. The home she brought TA to from the hospital was inappropriate due to dog feces around the house and the lack of a crib.

          JW and AD had been living with Dowdy's father and his wife since June 2015, but Dowdy had threatened to take them and DHS believed she would flee.

         The children were adjudicated dependent-neglected in January 2016 due to parental unfitness and neglect. The court specifically noted Dowdy's use of illegal drugs and the hazardous home environment, and it found that Dowdy had physically abused JW. Dowdy was ordered to complete certain services and to obtain appropriate housing, employment, and transportation. After an April 2016 review hearing, the court found that Dowdy had completed a drug-and-alcohol assessment and a psychological evaluation, but she had attended only seven out of twenty-six parenting-without-violence classes. The court found that she remained in the same inappropriate living situation and lacked adequate income and transportation. Following a second review hearing three months later, the court found that Dowdy had made no further progress on her case plan. At that point, she was living with friends in Oklahoma. The circuit court changed the goal of the case to adoption following a November 2016 permanency-planning hearing in which the court found that Dowdy had not complied with the case plan or court orders.

         The termination hearing was held in February 2017. The evidence established that Dowdy was homeless, jobless, and incarcerated. Dowdy testified that she was incarcerated in the county jail after having been arrested on three failure-to-appear warrants stemming from driving tickets, including driving with a suspended license. She said that she had given up her car due to these legal troubles and planned to get a bus pass for transportation. She testified that she had contacted someone about working at the chicken plant and had made plans to apply for an income-based apartment but was arrested before she could do so.

         Dowdy had completed a psychological evaluation and a drug-and-alcohol assessment but had not completed the recommended treatment. The drug-treatment facility would not accept Dowdy while she was taking a benzodiazepine. Dowdy said that she was prescribed this medication to treat depression, and she declined to quit taking it because it was the only medication that had helped her after having tried several others. Dowdy said that she had recently made a down payment to start classes at a treatment facility in Oklahoma, but she then decided to return to Arkansas. She testified that she had completed parenting-without-violence classes and turned in a certificate to DHS, but the caseworker, K.C. Oliver, testified that she never received the certificate. Dowdy denied having slapped JW in the face and said that she could not name offhand anything she had learned from the classes.

         Dowdy testified that she could "have everything together" and be in a position to take custody of the children if the court would give her four weeks from the time she is released from jail. When asked what had changed to allow her to accomplish these things now when she had failed to act over the course of the past year, Dowdy said that she had stopped listening to family and friends who thought they knew what was better for her. Oliver testified that all of the children were happy and healthy and had no barriers to adoption. TA's foster parents wanted to adopt her.

         The circuit court announced from the bench that it was terminating Dowdy's parental rights, stating that any plan for rehabilitation that would enable reunification within a reasonable time was not viable or believable based on Dowdy's current circumstances. In its order, the court found that four statutory grounds for termination had been proved. TA's father executed a consent to the termination of his parental rights, but the court denied DHS's petition to terminate the parental rights of Zachary Wright, JW and AD's father.

         The standard of review in appeals of termination-of-parental-rights cases is de novo, but we reverse a circuit court's decision to terminate parental rights only when it is clearly erroneous. Hernandez v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 250, 492 S.W.3d 119. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a distinct and firm conviction that a mistake was made. Id. In deciding whether a finding of the circuit court is clearly erroneous, we give great deference to the superior opportunity of ...

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