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Paris v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 25, 2017



          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

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

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Judge

         Appellant 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.

         I. Facts

         On 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.

         On September 22, 2015, the trial court held a hearing on the thirty-day petition.[1]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.

         An 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.[2] The trial court specifically found that

[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.

         The 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.

         A 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 February session.

         Despite 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.

         On 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 22, 2016.

         Dr. 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.

         Rhonda 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.

         Melissa 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.

         Allison 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 ...

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