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Solee v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

November 29, 2017



          Leah Lanford, 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.


         Appellant Candace Solee appeals the May 9, 2017 order of the Pulaski County Circuit Court terminating her rights to five of her six children. Appellant's sole challenge on appeal is to the evidence supporting the trial court's best-interest finding demonstrating the likelihood of adoption. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         This case began on February 26, 2016, after a truancy hearing for L.A. and T.S., then ages nine and thirteen, respectively, resulted in the trial court's placing a hold on the children. Appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) then took custody of appellant's four additional children, M.A., Z.S. (M), Z.S. (F), and K.M., ages seven, five, four and two, respectively, based on ADHS's assessment that appellant was unable to parent her children effectively or appropriately, specifically regarding issues of parental unfitness based on educational neglect and drug use. ADHS had opened a protective-services (PS) case on appellant's family in October 2015 because of a true finding of environmental and educational neglect that followed two previous cases between 2009 and 2011.

         The trial court granted an order for emergency custody, and on April 20, 2016, the children were adjudicated dependent-neglected through a stipulation that appellant had subjected them to educational neglect and parental unfitness based on truancy and exposing the children to drugs. The trial court found that the children had "vast, different needs" resulting from the children being "left to fend for themselves" and that appellant had to "get a handle on her drug addiction" and engage in "intensive hands-on parenting" during the case.

         Within a few weeks, the attorney ad litem filed a motion to modify appellant's visitation because L.A., M.A., and Z.S. (M) were "oppositional and defiant in their behaviors, and require[d] at least two [Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS)] staff members to transport them to visits in Little Rock." The ad litem explained that transporting the children created a risk of harm for both the DCFS staff and the children because the children were at risk of elopement. The ad litem further suggested that Z.S. (M) needed visits by himself with appellant because he would become "out of control" if he did not receive one-on-one attention from her. The trial court granted the ad litem's motion, requiring appellant to cooperate with DCFS in scheduling trips for visitation in the counties where the children resided and to adjust her work schedule to accommodate the separate visitations set up for her with her children.

         At the first review hearing on August 10, 2016, appellant testified that she had worked at Fresh Market almost full time since March. She was trying to balance work with all her case-plan requirements, and she acknowledged that she had been arrested at a staffing for possession of marijuana-although she said it belonged to her sister. Appellant stated that she was attending outpatient drug-treatment therapy and learning coping skills through therapy. The caseworker also testified, saying that L.A. had had several placements since the previous hearing, that he was destructive, and that he was about to be considered a treatment failure. M.A. had also been suspended from school. Appellant was visiting with the children separately according to the modified schedule.

         At the permanency-planning hearing on February 6, 2017, one year after the case had opened, the trial court changed the goal of five of the children to adoption, with Z.S. (M)'s goal being changed to permanent placement with his father. The trial court stated that it believed appellant was "playing games" with the drug screens because she had been negative on urine screens and positive on hair-follicle tests.

         ADHS filed a termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) petition on February 22, 2017, alleging that TPR was in the best interest of all the children except for Z.S. (M), that the children could find permanency through adoption, that appellant was unfit because she had failed to remedy the issues that caused removal, as well as other issues that had arisen subsequent to the filing of the initial petition, and that further services would likely not result in reunification.

         The trial court held a hearing on the TPR petition on April 19, 2017. Multiple witnesses testified, but with respect to the issue on appeal, Jessica Warren, the adoption specialist for ADHS, testified that the children had a "potential" for adoption. She based her opinion on the data-match system at ADHS that takes into consideration certain characteristics of the children. She did not include Z.S. (M) in the system because he was going to be placed in the permanent custody of his father. Ms. Warren did not specifically discuss the likelihood of adoption-just that there were no factors that would ...

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