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Burleson v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

November 15, 2017



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

         Patricia Burleson appeals the termination of her parental rights. She argues that the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to prove at least one ground for termination and that the termination was not in her children's best interest. We affirm.


         In January 2016, DHS petitioned for emergency custody of M.B., T.R., and A.R. based on the affidavit of caseworker Tammy Foster. The court found that a police officer had gone to the Burleson home around 8:00 am on 13 January 2016. The front door to the apartment was open, and Burleson, her husband, A.R., and M.B. were sleeping. The officer said that the parents "had no clue that the front door was open, that [T.R.] was gone, or that the officer was inside of the home." The family had an open Family in Need of Services (FINS) case, and Burleson was arrested for failing to appear for a court hearing related to T.R.'s school absences. The home was filled with rotten food and was very dirty, which was consistent with DHS's observations in its prior involvement with the Burlesons. Burleson stipulated that probable cause existed for the children's removal.

         In March 2016, the circuit court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected because the "squalor in the home . . . posed a danger to their health and safety" and because Burleson tested positive for THC at the time of removal. Burleson was ordered to submit to random drug screens, complete parenting classes, obtain and maintain stable housing and employment, attend counseling as recommended by her counselor or therapist, submit to a psychological evaluation and drug-and-alcohol assessment, resolve all criminal issues, and cooperate with DHS and keep DHS notified of new phone numbers and addresses.

         The court held a review hearing in July 2016 and found that Burleson had minimally complied with the case plan and court orders. It noted that Burleson had made three suicide attempts since the case started. She had no housing, proof of employment, had not started her psychological evaluation or drug-and-alcohol assessment, and had attended counseling sporadically. The court wrote that Burleson "denies drug use despite positive drug tests, including laboratory confirmed tests for meth." Burleson "completed her parenting classes but is not demonstrating she has learned anything." The court scheduled the next hearing as a permanency-planning hearing because "there has been no progress in the six months this case has been open." Visitation was set at "the discretion of the custodian, contingent on clean random drug screens . . . refusal to test or failure to provide a sample adequate for testing shall be considered a positive test."

         A permanency-planning order was entered in December 2016 authorizing a plan for adoption. DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights against Burleson, and a termination hearing was held in April 2017.

         DHS called Brenda Dixon as its first witness. Dixon, a paramedic, described two events in February 2017 in which she was called to Burleson's residence for an emergency call. One incident involved Burleson smelling of alcohol, being passed out in the floor, and having trouble breathing. The other event involved abdominal and chest pain.

         Caseworker Sarah Rion testified that she was assigned to the case three months before the termination hearing. She said that the one drug screen she had given Burleson was negative. She testified that Burleson had participated in parenting classes but had not completed them. Burleson was enrolled in counseling, but she did not complete a psychological evaluation until February 2017, more than one year after she should have had it done. A drug-and-alcohol assessment was also completed in February 2017. She reported that Burleson said that she was employed at the Morrilton Drive Inn and at Wendy's but did not have proof of either of those jobs. According to Rion, Burleson was living at Station House (government housing) with a male friend in a studio apartment. She said that Burleson failed to contact DHS when she moved to Marshall earlier in the year.

         On cross-examination, Rion admitted that she did not have firsthand knowledge of Burleson's past move to Marshall. When questioned by the court and parent counsel, Rion explained that Burleson had not been offered visits with her children since the permanency-planning hearing in October 2016. Upon further questioning, ...

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