FROM THE CL AY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT [NO.
11WJV-16-17] HONORABLE MELISSA BRISTOW RICHARDSON, JUDGE
Goodwin Jones, for appellant Laura Lancaster.
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
appellant Christopher Lancaster.
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
WAYMOND M. BROWN, JUDGE.
filed separate briefs appealing from the circuit court's
order terminating their parental rights to W.W., born
10/11/2008; J.L., born 07/25/2013; and A.L., born 01/20/2017.
On appeal, Christopher argues that the circuit court erred in
(1) failing to timely appoint counsel to represent him and
(2) finding that the grounds pleaded in support of
termination were sufficiently proved. Laura argues on appeal
that the circuit court erred in terminating her rights to the
children based on the (1)
twelve-months-out-of-the-home-without-remedy ground and the
(2) other-subsequent-factors ground. We affirm.
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) initiated contact
with appellants on December 3, 2015, after receiving a
hotline report of environmental neglect, drug use, domestic
violence, the children being "filthy[, ]" and lack
of food. Family services worker (FSW) Katie Wells made
contact on the same date; she found adequate food and
observed no health or safety concerns. Appellants denied drug
use, domestic violence, and a lack of food. Unsuccessful
attempts to visit appellants were made on January 4 and 6,
2016, but a successful attempt was made on January 11, 2016.
Again, there was adequate food and no health or safety
concerns were found; however, appellants both refused drug
screens. Because the hotline report could not be
substantiated, the case was closed on January 13, 2016.
second hotline report was accepted on February 9, 2016, as
"Differential Response with the allegations of
environmental neglect and inadequate food." The report
specifically stated that "there was no heat in the home
and it had been snowing in Corning for the past two days and
the wind chill was 18 . . . [and W.W.] was filthy and dirty
and had a body odor." When Wells made contact with
appellants on February 10, 2016, she observed that the gas
line had been cut-the landlord was supposed to be fixing
it-so space heaters were being used and the bathroom was
"very dirty." Laura refused cleaning supplies
offered by Wells and said she understood that W.W. had to be
returned on February 17, 2016, to a "neat and
clean" home with "[n]o health or safety concerns
observed"; Laura affirmed that W.W. was taking baths
nightly. Despite a hiccup on February 19, 2016, that was
virtually duplicative of Wells's February 10 visit but
which was corrected when Wells visited a second time on the
same date-the differential-response case was closed on
February 19, 2016.
received a third hotline report on April 6, 2016. After
receiving a call from a "concerned citizen" about
the family, Corporal Smith went out to the home for a
probation search. Upon Corporal Smith's arrival,
Christopher fled and Corporal Smith found Laura in the home
"severely under the influence of methamphetamine[,
]" so much so that he had to change J.L.'s
diaper-which was "soiled and swinging between his
legs"- after Laura "fidgeted" in her attempt
to change him but was ultimately "unable to complete the
task." Corporal Smith stated that "the home was not
appropriate for the children due to the home being cluttered
with trash and furniture and there was a roach infestation.
He stated there was not food in the home and that
[W.W.'s] clothing was filthy."
Wells met Laura and the children at the police station, Laura
was "swaying her head from side to side, gagging, and
fidgeting" and was "unable to carry on a
conversation . . . due to being under the influence."
Wells went to the home and essentially confirmed what
Corporal Smith had reported, among other things such as a
kitchen sink "overflowing with dirty dishes" and
various types of debris obscuring the floor from view. A
seventy-two-hour hold was taken on April 6, 2016. DHS filed a
petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect of W.W.
and J.L. on April 8, 2016. The circuit court entered an ex
parte order for emergency custody on the same date finding:
[DHS] has been involved with the family since 12/3/15, and
that the following services, as outlined in the affidavit,
were provided to the family: home visits, drug screens, offer
of cleaning supplies, differential response case which was
closed 12/19/1. These services did not prevent removal
because on 4/6/16, the mother was severely under the
influence of methamphetamine and was arrested during a
probation check at the home, and there was no caregiver for
circuit court entered a probable-cause order on April 12,
2016, following a hearing on the same date for which neither
Christopher nor Laura was present. Finding that probable
cause existed and continued for the children's removal,
the goal of the case was reunification. Both parents were
awarded supervised visitation.
circuit court entered an adjudication order on June 10, 2016.
Again, neither parent was present. The children were
adjudicated dependent-neglected due to environmental neglect
and parental unfitness. The goal of the case was
reunification with a concurrent plan of adoption.
circuit court entered a review order on September 21, 2016.
Christopher appeared in court for the first time at the
review hearing. The order noted that the circuit court
accepted and approved the stipulation of the parties and made
the findings and orders contained therein based on said
stipulations. Regarding the parties' compliance, the
circuit court made the following findings:
The mother has partially completed parenting classes. The
mother has completed 3 sessions of parenting classes, but has
cancelled multiple sessions. The mother did not attend her
psychological evaluation. The mother stated to the worker
that she did not go to her psychological appointment due to
feeling funny and that she just could not go. Due to her
missing the appointment the mother's psychological
evaluation is scheduled for December 2016. The mother missed
several visits with her children. In addition, the mother
tested positive for illegal substances. The parents' home
continues to be cluttered and dirty.
. . . .
The father has completed one parenting class. The father has
cancelled multiple parenting sessions. The father did submit
to a drug and alcohol assessment. However, the father has
failed to follow the recommendation of inpatient substance
abuse treatment. In addition, the father continues to test
positive for illegal substances. The father has missed
several visits with the children. The father states he
is too tired from working to attend the
visitation sessions. The parents continue to have a cluttered
and dirt [sic] home.
both parents were found to be in partial compliance with the
filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect
of A.L. on January 25, 2017, following her January 20, 2017
birth. A hotline report had been made stating that Laura had
given birth to A.L. at home and that Laura was lying in her
bed while A.L. was on the floor when the ambulance staff
arrived. The affidavit in support stated:
FSWS Howard confirmed that Laura's older children, [W.W.
and J.L.] are in foster care, and the permanency planning
hearing is scheduled for March of this year. FSWS Howard
reported that Laura has severe schizophrenia and will not
consistently take medication. FSWS Howard reported that very
little progress has been made throughout the foster care case
currently opened on Laura's children; and [DHS] had
planned to remove [A.L.] when born.
FSW [Allison] Swann contacted [Arkansas Methodist Medical
Center] and spoke with RN Jennifer Melvoy. RN Melvoy told FSW
Swann that Laura had contacted the ambulance upon giving
birth to [A.L.] but when medical staff arrived, Laura could
not figure out why she was bleeding. . . . RN Melvoy stated
that Laura was also hospitalized for monitoring and it took
her several hours of being in the hospital to understand that
she had a baby and for a significant period of time, did not
understand why she was bleeding. RN Melvoy explained that due
to [A.L.] being born at home, she will be monitored for
several days in the hospital[.]
affidavit further noted DHS's involvement with Laura. A
seventy-two-hour hold was taken on A.L. on January 20, 2017,
though she remained in the hospital receiving antibiotics
through January 24, 2017. An ex parte order for emergency
custody was entered on January 25, 2017.
circuit court entered a stipulated probable-cause order as to
A.L. on January 26, 2017. Neither parent was present for the
hearing, which was held on the same date. In its February 8,
2017 adjudication order, the circuit court adjudicated A.L.
dependent-neglected due to "Parental Unfitness and
inadequate supervision as well as prior adjudication of
siblings for the same grounds." Both parents were
present at the adjudication hearing. The goal of the case, as to
A.L., was reunification with a concurrent plan of
"relative placement, permanency and adoption."
the order-regarding W.W. and J.L. only-was not entered until
September 20, 2017, the circuit court held a
permanency-planning hearing on May 11, 2017. Both parents
appeared, albeit Christopher appeared again by phone. The
circuit court changed the goal of the case to adoption and
authorized DHS to file a petition for termination of parental
rights (TPR). Noting that Christopher had not yet been
appointed counsel and was requesting such an appointment at
that time, it found Christopher to be ...