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Tatum v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

December 6, 2017



          Dusti Standridge, for appellant.

          Anna Imbeau and Jerald A. Sharum, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         This is an appeal from an order entered on May 11, 2017, by the Benton County Circuit Court, terminating appellant Jasmine Tatum's parental rights to her minor children. On appeal, she argues that (1) the circuit court erred in changing the goal of the case plan to adoption; (2) there was insufficient evidence presented to establish that grounds supporting termination of her parental rights existed; and (3) terminating her parental rights was not in the best interests of her children. We affirm.

         On September 16, 2015, Jasmine Tatum was arrested and incarcerated by the Bentonville police for prostitution, endangering the welfare of a minor, and obstruction of governmental operations. Tatum had three children, who were, at the time, ages eight, five, and two. Allegedly, Tatum had posted an ad on Craigslist, invited a man to her hotel room where she was living with her children, and spent some time with him in the bathroom while the children sat on the bed and watched television. Tatum then accepted $40 from the man and he left.

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) took an emergency hold on the children. The case progressed through an emergency-custody order, a probable-cause hearing, and an adjudication hearing. At the adjudication hearing, the court found that the children were at substantial risk of serious harm as a result of neglect and parental unfitness, specifically, inadequate supervision, failure to protect, and threat of harm by Tatum when she was arrested for engaging in prostitution in the presence of the children.

         The circuit court established reunification as the case-plan goal. Under the case plan, Tatum was ordered to establish residential stability, obtain and maintain stable employment and transportation, display proper parenting skills, attend individual counseling, submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment and follow the recommendations, undergo a psychological evaluation and comply with the recommendations, and to resolve all legal issues. DHS was ordered to make a housing referral.

         Tatum was found to be in partial compliance at the March 1, 2016 review hearing, and in full compliance at the June 14, 2016 hearing. Custody continued with DHS. On November 2, 2016, DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights, alleging the grounds of twelve months failure to remedy, subsequent factors, and aggravated circumstances.

         Tatum did not appear for the February 9, 2017 permanency-planning hearing. The circuit court found that Tatum was unfit due to her "significant history of use and abuse of illegal and prescription drugs; significant medical issues that interfere with her fitness to work; lack of employment and housing stability;" and "unsuccessfully treated mental health issues" and that "all of these issues endanger the children." The circuit court further found that Tatum had been unable to resolve her issues, despite the services offered to her, and that Tatum "would need at least a year to a year and a half to rehabilitate to be ready for the children."

         A termination hearing was held on March 28, 2017. Testimony and evidence introduced indicated that, during the case, Tatum developed endometriosis, required an ablation, and then a complication arose with the ablation that resulted in infection and a need for a wound-VAC. Tatum's primary-care physician testified that there was little doubt that Tatum was in serious pain from the procedure and complications, and prescribed Tatum pain medication. Tatum, however, sought treatment from several doctors and emergency rooms during that time and obtained over 400 oxycodone pills in a six-month period. Three doctors who had treated Tatum over the year testified that they believed she had a narcotics dependency. Doctor Steven Irwin, an interventional pain physician, also testified. Tatum began seeing him in October 2016 for pain related to her endometriosis. Dr. Irwin testified that, as of February 2017, he was starting to wean Tatum off opioids.

         Tatum testified about her housing instability throughout the case. At the beginning of the case, she was living in a hotel with her children. She then got an apartment but had to move out for failing to pay $2400 in rent and fees. From there, she lived in multiple shelters, another hotel for a month, and then moved to Missouri to live with a man she had met on Craigslist. She also testified that, at the time of the termination hearing, she had failed to resolve her criminal issues, and there was currently a warrant out for her arrest in Florida on an unresolved shoplifting misdemeanor charge.

         In an order dated May 11, 2017, the circuit court terminated Tatum's parental rights on all grounds alleged in ...

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