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Rivera v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 12, 2018

VERONICA RIVERA APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND G.H., MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE POINSETT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 56JV-16-66] HONORABLE RALPH WILSON, JR., JUDGE

          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 child.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, JUDGE

         Veronica Rivera appeals the Poinsett County Circuit Court's termination of her parental rights to G.H., born May 30, 2015, arguing that the circuit court's findings were clearly erroneous. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect claiming that on June 20, 2016, it took a seventy-two-hour hold on G.H. when Rivera was arrested for allegedly stabbing her stepfather.[1] DHS claimed that Rivera had left G.H. in the custody of her mother. When Rivera arrived with G.H.'s father, Tommy Henton, to retrieve the child, both Rivera and Henton were drunk, and Rivera's mother was not home. Rivera's stepfather tried to prevent them from taking G.H., and a fight ensued. Rivera's stepfather was stabbed with a kitchen knife, and Rivera and Henton were arrested. Later, Rivera's mother tested positive for methamphetamine and MDMA. A June 28, 2016 ex parte order found probable cause to believe that G.H. was dependent-neglected (DN) and that it was in the child's best interest to remain in DHS custody.

         The probable-cause order reflects that Rivera was incarcerated at the time of the hearing and did not attend. The court ordered that G.H. remain in DHS custody, and the goal of the case was reunification with Rivera. The parents were ordered to complete a myriad of tasks, including that they obey all court orders, remain drug free and submit to random drug screens, submit to a drug-and-alcohol intake at an inpatient treatment facility, obtain and maintain stable housing and employment, and resolve all outstanding criminal matters.

         Rivera was present for the hearing on July 20, 2016, that resulted in an adjudication order finding the child DN, having been subjected to neglect and parental unfitness based on Rivera's extreme intoxication and first-degree-battery and aggravated-assault charges. The goal remained reunification with a concurrent plan for relative placement, permanency, and adoption.

         A review order from the October 25, 2016 hearing was based on the parties' stipulation. The court found that it was in G.H.'s best interest to remain in DHS custody. The goal continued to be reunification, and the court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services. The court found that Rivera had not cooperated with DHS nor complied with the case plan and all court orders to obtain and maintain stable employment and to successfully complete inpatient treatment.

         At the review hearing on April 19, 2017, the circuit court found:

At the last court hearing that was continued, Ms. Rivera reported that she is working. However, at the hearing the mother tested positive for illegal substances. In addition, Ms. Rivera was admitted into inpatient rehab on August 31, 2016, however, the mother was discharged on September 14, 2016, for not following the rules of the program. The mother has completed parenting classes. The mother is currently receiving outpatient services; however, it has been reported that she was very rude at the last group session on March 20, 2017. The mother missed her individual therapy appointment on March 20, 2017. The court finds that Ms. Rivera is partially compliant with the case plan and orders of the court due to completing parenting classes and stating under oath that she is employed.

         In a handwritten addition, the court ordered that Rivera provide a copy of her lease and proof of employment to DHS and that DHS aid Rivera in obtaining a valid driver's license and valid car registration. DHS was also ordered to establish visitation for Rivera.[2]

         The September 22, 2017 permanency-planning order set a permanent goal of adoption and allowed DHS to file a petition for termination of parental rights. The court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to finalize a permanency plan. The court ordered that Rivera would continue to have biweekly visitation, but she was to give DHS twenty-four hours' notice and allow DHS into her home for an assessment.

         DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on October 4, 2017, alleging five grounds under Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341 (Supp. 2017), four of which applied to Rivera:

1. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) That a juvenile has been adjudicated by the Court to be [DN] and has continued to be out of the custody of the mother for twelve (12) months and, despite a meaningful effort by [DHS] to rehabilitate the mother and correct the conditions that ...

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