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Thomas v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

June 6, 2018



          Janet Lawrence, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellant.

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

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge

         The Pulaski County Circuit Court terminated the parental rights of appellant Latoya Thomas to her three children, A.Y.1, A.Y.2, and Z.T.[1] On appeal, Thomas challenges both the statutory grounds on which the circuit court relied for termination and the circuit court's best-interest finding. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Thomas became involved with the Department of Human Services (DHS) in May 2015 when the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a report that Z.T. had been subjected to medical neglect and malnourishment. As a result, DCFS opened a protective-services case in August 2015. DCFS assigned a caseworker, and Thomas was referred to a psychiatrist to assist her with getting back on her medication for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. During the pendency of the protective-services case, Thomas exhibited combative behavior. In September 2015, Thomas took A.Y.1 to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, where she became belligerent and verbally combative with the staff. When confronted by DCFS about the hospital incident, Thomas yelled and cursed at the caseworker, and she admitted that she was not taking her medications. DCFS further learned that Thomas had expressed suicidal ideations. The caseworker became concerned for the children's safety and attempted to exercise a seventy-two-hour hold on them.

         When DCFS attempted to place the hold on the children, the caseworker found Thomas and the children at the home of Princeton Mazique, A.Y.1 and A.Y.2's father. When Mazique opened the front door, the house reeked of marijuana; in addition, the children were dirty, did not have adequate clothing, and reported that they had not eaten that day. The caseworker told Thomas that she was taking a hold on the children, and Thomas began yelling and cursing in front of the children. When the caseworker asked for the children's medications (A.Y.1 and A.Y.2 both suffer from asthma, and A.Y.2 has a seizure disorder), Thomas said she did not have it. DHS exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on the children and filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. DHS alleged both neglect-citing the failure to properly clothe, feed, and clean the children and the failure to provide them with their medication-and parental unfitness, including Thomas's failure to take her mental-health medication and her suicidal ideations.

         The circuit court acted on DHS's petition and entered an ex parte order for emergency custody, setting the matter for a probable-cause hearing. At the hearing, the parties stipulated to probable cause. [2] The court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected on November 18, 2015, finding that they had been subjected to neglect and parental unfitness. The court cited Thomas's mental-health issues that had not been appropriately addressed and her positive drug screens during the protective-services case. The court also noted that A.Y.2 had a hair-shaft test that was positive for THC. The goal of the case was established as reunification. The court ordered DHS to continue to provide Thomas services, including drug screens, a drug-and-alcohol assessment, a counseling assessment, a psychological evaluation, and parenting classes.[3]

         After adjudication, DHS provided services as ordered, and initially, Thomas made progress toward reunification. She completed her parenting classes, outpatient drug classes, and a psychological evaluation, and she was attending therapy through HLH Counseling. In a permanency-planning order entered in September 2016, the court noted that while Thomas was participating in services, it could "not yet determine if [she] has . . . received benefit from services." The court therefore expressly advised DHS that Thomas "require[d] more attention" and directed DHS to refer her to workforce services, rehabilitation services, or job training.

         Thomas continued to make progress to the extent that she and DHS filed a joint motion for weekend visitation, which the circuit court granted in a fifteen-month permanency-planning order. In addition to the unsupervised weekend visitation, the court authorized a sixty-day trial placement after four successful weekend visits. The court expressed optimism about Thomas's progress. The court cautioned, however, that although it believed reunification was imminent and that placement of the children with Thomas could be achieved by the next hearing,

Mother was made well aware of this expectation, and if there is lack of progress such that reunification is impossible at the time of the next hearing, Mother [is] put on notice that reunification may no longer be an option at that point. While Ms. Thomas will be given every opportunity to show proof of improvement and appropriateness, these children will not languish if further progress is not forthcoming.

         Thomas successfully completed the four weekend visits, and the children were placed in the sixty-day trial placement. Thomas filed a motion seeking temporary custody of her children, and the circuit court entered an agreed order for ...

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