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Scott v. Arkansas Department of Human Services and Minor Children

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

June 6, 2018

MICHAEL SCOTT APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE LOGAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT [NO. 42PJV-16-14] HONORABLE TERRY SULLIVAN, JUDGE

          Lisa-Marie Norris, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          BART F. VIRDEN, Judge

         Appellant Michael Scott appeals from the Logan County Circuit Court's termination of his parental rights to his children, M.S. (DOB: 7-1-2002), B.S. (DOB: 10-3-2007), and T.S. (DOB: 9-28-2012).[1] Michael argues that there was insufficient evidence of grounds for termination and that the trial court erred in finding that termination of his parental rights was in his children's best interest. We affirm the trial court's decision.

         I. Procedural History

         On September 2, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect as to the Scotts' children. In an affidavit attached to the petition, a DHS family-service worker attested that DHS visited the home on August 31, 2016, because there was an open protective-services case on the family. The children's mother, Charla Scott, tested positive for illegal drugs and medication for which she had no prescription. Charla was the only one at home with the children, as Michael was at work. The children were taken into DHS custody. When Michael returned home from work, he went to the DHS office where, the family-service worker attested, he became "verbally aggressive." The family-service worker stated that Michael had cursed at and threatened the workers and that he had said that he was "going to get a gun because no one is taking [his] kids." The affidavit also indicated that DHS/DCFS had had a history with the family since 2010. There was a true finding of inadequate supervision as to Charla, a true finding of cuts, bruises, and welts as to Charla, a true finding of medical neglect against Michael, a true finding of neglect against Charla, and a true finding of sexual abuse against Charla's boyfriend.

         The trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody and later found that probable cause existed to issue the order. Michael was ordered to submit to random drug screens, watch "The Clock is Ticking" video, attend parenting classes, obtain and maintain stable and appropriate housing and stable and gainful employment, submit to a psychological evaluation and follow any recommendations, attend counseling, keep DHS informed of his contact information, and resolve all criminal issues.

         On January 4, 2017, the trial court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected based on neglect due to inadequate supervision and parental unfitness. Michael stipulated to the finding and was ordered to complete the same tasks and services as set forth in the probable-cause order. A review order was entered on February 15, 2017, in which the trial court found that Michael had complied with the case plan in that he had started parenting classes, worked at McDonald's, attended counseling, maintained his home, and filed for divorce from Charla. The trial court noted, however, that Michael "does not always make the best decisions." Another review order was entered on May 23, 2017, in which the trial court found that Michael had partially complied with the case plan in that he had completed parenting classes; he was visiting his children; he worked as a manager at McDonald's; he was attending counseling; and he had divorced Charla. The trial court noted, however, that DHS had encountered Charla at Michael's home on April 10 and that Michael and Charla had been arrested for a domestic-violence incident that occurred on April 23 at Michael's home. A permanency-planning order was entered on August 23, 2017. In granting DHS's request to change the goal of the case from reunification to adoption, the trial court found that Michael had a "toxic" relationship with Charla, "which inhibits him from raising his kids." The trial court further found that Charla had been to Michael's home and that the police had been called, that Michael was not attending counseling, that Michael should not discuss termination of parental rights with his children during visitation, that the parents were not making progress, and that the children need permanency.

         On September 16, 2017, DHS filed a petition for termination of the Scotts' parental rights. As to Michael, DHS alleged three grounds pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B) (Supp. 2017). A termination hearing was held on November 1, 2017.

         II. Termination Hearing

         Ronnie Goff, Michael's therapist at Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center, testified that he treated Michael for major depression and anxiety, which he said likely stemmed from losing his children and feeling as though he could not regain custody of them. He said that he had visited with Michael five times since January 2017 and that Michael had missed four sessions without calling. Goff stated that Michael was "a little resistant" during sessions and that he "didn't seem to listen to much that was said about what he could do to improve his state of mind." He testified that he had offered Michael medication but that Michael had refused. Goff stated that Michael had made "very little progress." Goff testified that Michael "cares deeply for his children" and that

I do not feel like Mr. Scott, in his current mental state, is an immediate danger to his children. I have no indication that he exhibits any type of abusive behaviors. If his children were placed in his care, through what I know from Mr. Scott, those ...

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