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Gonzalez v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

September 19, 2018

MISTY GONZALEZ APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE POINSETT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 56JV-2016-27] HONORABLE RALPH WILSON, JR., JUDGE.

          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, JUDGE.

         Misty Gonzalez appeals the decision of the Poinsett County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her three children: S.A. (born July 13, 2002), R.G. (born November 16, 2007), and L.G. (born December 8, 2009). On appeal, Gonzalez argues that the circuit court erred in finding that the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) proved the statutory grounds necessary for terminating her parental rights; additionally, she argues that the circuit court erred in finding that termination was in the children's best interest. We affirm.

         I. Procedural History

         DHS has an extensive history with Gonzalez and her family. In February 2015, DHS CV-18-308 investigated unsubstantiated allegations of physical abuse made against Gonzalez's husband, Richard Gonzalez.[1] In December 2015, DHS investigated substantiated allegations of cuts, welts, bruises, striking a child, threat of harm, failure to protect, and environmental neglect, and it opened a protective-services case at that time.

         In March 2016, DHS investigated a hotline report of substance misuse, failure to protect, environmental neglect, and medical neglect. DHS contacted Gonzalez, who initially resisted a drug screen but ultimately tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, THC, and MDMA. In addition, her home was piled with clothing; there were holes in the floor, a dog and its feces in a kennel in the bedroom, and the odor of marijuana in the home. DHS exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on the children and filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect.

         The circuit court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected on May 26, 2016, finding that they were subjected to parental unfitness as a result of Gonzalez's drug use. The court established the goal of the case as reunification, with a concurrent goal of relative placement, permanency, and adoption. Gonzalez was ordered, among other things, to cooperate with DHS, comply with the case plan, and obey all orders of the court; remain drug free and submit to random drug screens; participate in and complete parenting classes; obtain and maintain clean, safe, and stable housing; obtain and maintain stable employment or provide sufficient income to support the family; and provide DHS with a budget indicating sufficient income or resources to meet the family's needs.

         After adjudication, the court held review hearings in September and December 2016. At both review hearings, the court found that return of the children to Gonzalez's custody was contrary to the children's welfare and that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services. The court also found that Gonzalez had complied with some aspects of the case plan, noting that she had remained drug free and had completed a drug-and-alcohol assessment. Nonetheless, the circuit court ultimately found that Gonzalez had still not obtained and maintained stable housing or employment, nor had she cooperated with DHS and complied with the case plan and court orders.

         Despite these findings, in June 2017, the court authorized a trial home placement with Gonzalez. This arrangement was short-lived, however. By the time of the fifteen-month review hearing in September 2017, the circuit court determined that the goal of the case should be adoption. Specifically, the court found that Gonzalez had partially complied with the case plan by remaining drug free and completing outpatient therapy, but she still had not obtained stable housing, employment, or transportation. The court once more ordered Gonzalez to achieve these things and authorized DHS to file a petition for termination of parental rights.

         DHS filed its termination petition in October 2017, alleging two grounds: (1) the "subsequent factors" ground in Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vii)(a) (Supp. 2017), and (2) the "aggravated circumstances" ground in section 9-27-341(b)(e)(B)(ix)(a). For the subsequent-factors ground, DHS alleged that since the original petition was filed in March 2016, Gonzalez had been jobless, did not have stable transportation, and had a failed trial home placement, which ended when Gonzalez became homeless. In support of the aggravated-circumstances ground, DHS alleged that there was little likelihood that additional services to the family would result in successful reunification, pointing to the numerous services provided to Gonzalez throughout the case, her inability to have the stability of housing, employment, or transportation necessary to care for her children, and her noncompliance with court orders.

         After a hearing on the petition in December 2017, the circuit court entered an order terminating Gonzalez's parental rights, finding that DHS had proved both statutory grounds and that the termination was in the best interest of the children. Gonzalez timely appealed the circuit court's order. She challenges the circuit court's finding that DHS proved both statutory grounds alleged in the termination petition; additionally, she challenges the potential-harm prong of the circuit ...


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