FROM THE SCOTT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 64JV-15-27]
HONORABLE TERRY SULLIVAN, JUDGE
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Firth, County Legal Operations, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
J. GLADWIN, Judge
Traci Parish appeals the January 23, 2017 order of the Scott
County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights (TPR) to
her minor child, V.R. On appeal, appellant challenges both
the trial court's best-interest and statutory-ground
findings. We affirm.
August 13, 2015, appellee, the Arkansas Department of Human
Services (ADHS) filed a petition alleging that V.R. was
dependent-neglected on the basis that the child was at a
substantial risk of harm as the result of serious abuse. The
basis for ADHS's claim was detailed in an affidavit
attached to the petition that was completed by one of
ADHS's family service workers, Sherry Benjamin. Ms.
Benjamin stated that a report had been made to the
child-abuse hotline on February 11, 2015, alleging that
appellant had spanked V.R. to such an extent that it resulted
in bright red marks to the child's legs, buttocks, and
vaginal area. Appellant was arrested and charged with
first-degree domestic battering, and V.R. remained with
Donald and Teresa Niblett, appellant's mother and
stepfather, while appellant was incarcerated. Appellant
pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and, upon her release, she
moved in with her parents and V.R. Ms. Benjamin explained
that on July 15, 2015, appellant notified ADHS that she and
V.R. wanted to move into their own apartment. ADHS explained
that if she moved out on her own, a safety plan would be
submitted to the trial court for approval based on the
history of abuse. Appellant agreed, and she and V.R. moved
shortly thereafter. The affidavit also set forth the history
between appellant and V.R., which included a prior
foster-care case that resulted in appellant losing custody of
V.R. from August 2013 through April 2014.
September 22, 2015, the trial court held a hearing on the
thirty-day petition.Ms. Benjamin's testimony reiterated
what she had sworn in her affidavit. She also testified about
the details of the safety plan that was implemented in July
and noted that appellant had been complying with that plan.
After initially agreeing to the safety plan, the trial court
announced that it would not approve the thirty-day petition
and ordered ADHS to immediately take V.R. into custody.
adjudication and disposition order was entered on October 1,
2015, in which the trial court found V.R.
dependent-neglected, found that leaving custody with
appellant was contrary to the health and safety of V.R., and
placed custody of her with ADHS. The trial court specifically
[appellant] was found guilty in December 4, 2012, of
committing assault in the first degree, a Class A
misdemeanor, against her daughter, [V.R.], and this caused
her child to be placed in foster care for eight months before
she was reunified with [appellant]. [Appellant] was found
guilty on May 5, 2015, for domestic battering in the third
degree, a Class A misdemeanor, on [V.R.], and was ordered to
pay fines, one year of unsupervised probation, successfully
complete batterer's treatment or anger management within
six months, and a no offensive contact order was put in
place. The original charge was domestic battering in the
second degree, a Class C felony.
trial court set a goal of reunification and ordered appellant
to do certain things to achieve that goal: (1) watch
"The Clock is Ticking" video; (2) attend and
complete parenting classes; (3) obtain and maintain stable
and appropriate housing; (4) obtain and maintain stable and
gainful employment; (5) attend counseling as recommend by
counselor or therapist; (6) submit to a psychological
evaluation and follow all recommendations; (7) submit to
homemaker service; (8) cooperate with ADHS; and (9) comply
with the case plan.
review hearing was held on November 24, 2015, and in an order
entered that same day, the trial court found that appellant
was complying with the case plan, working full time, and
attending visitation with V.R. The trial court continued the
goal of reunification. Following a second review hearing on
March 8, 2016, the trial court found that, given the results
of appellant's psychological evaluation, the goal of
reunification was "problematic":
[Appellant] has partially complied with the case plan in that
she has completed her psychological evaluation, which
diagnosed her with Personality Disorder and Opioid Disorder
(in remission). The evaluation further reported [appellant]
does not understand the severity of her situation, minimizes
the events related to her two (2) convictions for physical
abuse, and multiple abuse related police calls to her home.
[Appellant] blames others for her situation. She continues to
work full-time at Tyson and has an apartment. She regularly
visits [V.R.], but has made inappropriate remarks to her,
such as predicting when she will be coming home. [Appellant]
was attending Counseling, but "no-showed" for her
these concerns, the trial court continued the goal of
reunification. But following a permanency-planning hearing on
August 9, 2016, the trial court ordered that the goal of the
case be changed to adoption.
October 6, 2016, ADHS filed a TPR petition, alleging multiple
grounds in support of its request for TPR, and further
alleging that TPR was in the best interest of V.R. The trial
court held a hearing on the TPR petition on November 8 and
Robert Spray, a clinical psychologist, testified that he
conducted a psychological evaluation on appellant in December
2015 following a referral from ADHS. According to Dr. Spray,
the findings of that exam indicated that (1) there is a
tendency for appellant to project blame; (2) appellant is
sometimes guilt ridden; and (3) appellant has a tendency to
deny the severity of her problems and the impact that the
chronic interpersonal and family conflicts have on her life
and the children.
Peppers, a counselor at Western Arkansas Counseling and
Guidance Center (WACGC), testified that she had worked with
appellant from December 2015 through June 2016. Ms. Peppers
stated that appellant made progress during her sessions,
demonstrated fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and
began to "open up" more and discuss her emotional
issues, which had been difficult for her in the beginning.
Ms. Peppers explained that, initially, appellant minimized
the situation that resulted in V.R.'s being in foster
care, but that in subsequent sessions appellant exhibited a
better understanding of the situation.
Jorsch, a drug-and-alcohol counselor with Ozark Mountain
Alcohol Residential Treatment (OMART), testified that
appellant was referred to OMART but was discharged before
completion after appellant was discovered in her room smoking
cigarettes. On cross-examination, Ms. Jorsch admitted that
appellant's ninety-day completion of the program at
Gateway would be comparable to her completing the program at
OMART, which was for thirty days.
Carson, who served as V.R.'s counselor at WACGC beginning
in April 2016, testified that V.R. had been diagnosed with
adjustment disorder. Ms. Carson confirmed that she had been
asked about providing family counseling for V.R. and
appellant and that considering V.R.'s progress, she
thought it was a good idea. Ms. Carson stated that after
family counseling, V.R. began to act defiantly, clingy, and
whiny. Ms. Carson also explained that she noticed a lack of
empathy on appellant's part during a session when V.R.
was sad; however, she also acknowledged that at other times
when the two ...