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James v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 26, 2018



          Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellant.

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         Kristen James appeals from the termination of her parental rights to PJ (D.O.B. 11-18-2006). In this appeal, she contends DHS did not prove a statutory ground for termination nor potential harm under the best-interest determination. We disagree and affirm.

         Summary of Interim Trial Court Orders

         The affidavit supporting the DHS petition for emergency custody included the following pertinent statements: On August 5, 2016, Cindy Edrington (DHS employee) received a phone call from Officer Jimmy Wicker of the Fayetteville Police Department. Wicker told her he was at the scene of a minor car accident. He reported that Kristen James, the driver, had left the scene of the accident and that Kristen's son, PJ, a woman named Shannon Spence, and Shannon's son, Dane, were still at the scene. Cindy arrived at the scene and noted the odor of intoxicants when she approached Shannon. DHS took an emergency 72-hour hold on both PJ and Dane because Shannon was not responding "appropriately" to questions, was apparently too intoxicated to care for the children, and no other legal caregiver was available for PJ. In the course of securing the situation, PJ told the family-service worker Kristen and Shannon had dropped PJ and Dane off at the movies and then went "to the bar to drink." The affidavit also listed the following DHS history with Kristen: 4/22/16 allegations of threat of harm with sons, PJ, TT, and CT as the victims-allegations were unsubstantiated; CT and TT, Kristen's two older sons were in their father's custody; "Through a DR referral, Kristen received services of home visits."

         On August 8, 2016, an ex parte order for emergency custody was entered, followed by a probable-cause hearing and entry of a probable-cause order on August 10, 2016. Legal custody of PJ was placed with his paternal grandparents, Peggy and James Bledsoe, effective August 15, 2016. PJ's father is deceased.

         On September 29, 2016, the adjudication and disposition order was entered, finding PJ dependent-neglected as a result of neglect and parental unfitness. The trial court specifically found Kristen was drinking alcohol and fled the scene of a car accident because she did not want to wait for the police to arrive and did not want to get arrested; she placed PJ in harm's way when she left him with Shannon Spence, who was too intoxicated to stand at the time she was arrested; Kristen either had a drinking problem or some other type problem because she thought this situation was everyone else's fault; and she was not credible. PJ was ordered to remain in the Bledsoes' custody.

         The trial court ordered Kristen to do certain things, including cooperate with DHS and contact a designated family-service worker once a week; participate in individual counseling and follow recommendations; refrain from using illegal drugs/alcohol/abusing prescription meds; undergo a drug-and-alcohol assessment and follow recommendations; submit to weekly random drug screens with DHS observing production of the sample; complete twelve hours of parenting classes before December 26, 2016, and demonstrate improved parenting skills; obtain and maintain stable housing and employment; maintain a clean, safe home; demonstrate ability to protect PJ and keep him safe from harm; maintain contact with her attorney; submit to a hair-follicle drug screen within ten days (October 9, 2016) and not cut or dye her hair before the hair-follicle drug screen; and follow the case plan and court orders. Kristen was not ordered to pay child support at the time.

         The February 3, 2017 review order found partial compliance with the case plan and court orders, but stated that Kristen had not exercised all available visits with PJ, missing approximately half of them; that she was having emotional problems; that she had completed the parenting classes, obtained a psychiatric evaluation, and undergone one round of counseling; but that she had not demonstrated she could properly and safely parent PJ. The review order further stated in part that Kristen was not to use any alcohol at all; that she was to undergo another round of individual counseling; that she was to submit to supervised random drug screens twice a month; that she was to obtain and maintain stable housing and employment; that she was to demonstrate the ability to protect PJ; and that she was to follow the case plan and court orders.

         By order entered on March 17, 2017, the court appointed a special advocate for PJ. The record also contains a bench warrant for failure to appear dated June 7, 2017, and a charge for contempt of court dated September 28, 2016.

         The June 8, 2017 review order found that Kristen had not complied with all of the case plan and court orders; specifically, she had not kept in weekly contact with DHS; had not provided DHS with documentation of her employment; had not submitted to all random weekly drug screens; had not attended every visit offered her; and had made "minimal progress towards alleviating or mitigating the causes of [PJ's] removal from the home and completing the court orders and requirements of the case plan." The court did find that Kristen was participating in individual counseling, and reunification was retained as the goal. The court ordered no contact between PJ and Kristen, concluding visitation was not in PJ's best interest because Kristen was "not making good choices" and was "not exercising all of ...

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