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McHenry v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

June 20, 2018



          Leah Lanford, 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.


         Stephanie McHenry appeals the Union County Circuit Court's termination of her parental rights to C.H.1, C.H.2, C.H.3, and C.M. We affirm.

         I. Background

         This case started when the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) received a child-maltreatment report after the meconium of Stephanie McHenry's fourth child tested positive for marijuana in February 2016. Services were started for the family, and a Union County social worker checked regularly on the children. There were concerns that Stephanie's eldest son, C.M., age 15, was babysitting the children-including C.H.3, an infant who had just been released from Arkansas Children's Hospital after a lengthy stay following his premature birth. More childcare and other services were provided, but on 3 August 2016, Stephanie had a positive drug test with "faint lines" for amphetamines, and she admitted that she had used methamphetamine.

         The children were adjudicated dependent-neglected on 9 January 2017 based primarily on Stephanie's positive drug test and a lice infestation. The court ordered Stephanie to submit to random drug screens, successfully complete parenting classes and psychotherapy counseling, successfully attend NA/AA meetings, maintain housing, allow the DHS access to the home, obtain employment, and maintain regular contact with the juveniles. In March 2017, the court ordered Stephanie to follow "Loren Beck's plan for substance abuse treatment" and not to use or possess alcohol.

         On 6 April 2017, the court ordered alternating weekend visitation between the children and Stephanie-ordering Stephanie not to smoke or "have the odor of smoke on her during the weekend visits." On 1 May 2017, the court entered an agreed order of a 60-day trial visit between Stephanie and C.H.1.

         On 6 July 2017 DHS filed a motion for ex parte emergency custody, alleging "circumstances have changed since the entry of the most recent temporary custody order concerning [C.M.] and [C.H.1]." DHS alleged that Stephanie had been drinking on July 4 in violation of the court's order, and was involved in a "domestic dispute with Jonathan Keanobody, [1] someone she said she was not in a relationship with and had taken off in the middle of the night walking with her three (3) youngest children in the woods." An attached affidavit by a DHS caseworker detailed the events of the night. The court entered an order of emergency change of custody on July 11.

         A review order was entered on 12 July 2017. It reflected that C.H.1 started a trial visit on May 15 and C.M. started a trial visit on May 22, before the emergency order changing custody back to DHS was entered on July 11. The court entered a permanency-planning order on 6 October 2017, which changed the case goal to adoption. DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on 12 September 2017, alleging two statutory grounds-the 12-month ground and the aggravated-circumstances ground. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) and (b)(3)(B)(ix)(a) (Supp. 2017).

         II. Termination Hearing

         The circuit court convened a hearing on DHS's termination petition on 16 October 2017. We have reviewed the record and all the testimony but have included only the most critical parts.

         Stephanie's alcohol-and-drug counselor, Loren Beck, testified that he recommended intensive outpatient therapy for Stephanie after an initial assessment spun by the 2016 child-maltreatment report. Stephanie completed treatment but there were problems along the way. For example, in December 2016 Stephanie admitted drinking around the holidays. Drinking was not allowed under Beck's treatment plan. Beck restarted his plan with Stephanie in February 2017, and again in mid-April. Beck discharged Stephanie from treatment after she completed "a very client-specific plan" in May 2017. After the July 4 incident, Stephanie completed eight-week interim services and remained active in the aftercare program, according to Beck. Beck's prognosis for Stephanie's sobriety was "guarded" because Stephanie "doesn't believe that she has a problem with alcohol or drugs."

         On cross-examination, Beck stated that the court adopted his February 2017 recommendations that Stephanie abstain from alcohol, that he found out about Stephanie's boyfriend from the staffing, and that in mid-April 2017 Stephanie started to be open and honest about her life and treatment. Beck said that after the July 4 incident, Stephanie started going to lots of extra treatment, group meetings, and twelve-step meetings.

         Molly Taylor, the foster mom to C.H.2 and C.H.3, testified that the children "went for a trial visit" around 19 June 2017 and returned to her home on July 4 or 5. Taylor reported that when C.H.2 and C.H.3 returned, they were dirty, covered in bug bites, and had lice and a few fleas on them. C.H.2 regressed in her toilet training and played with her urine. C.H.3 was a happy baby before ...

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