FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23JV-17-14]
HONORABLE DAVID M. CLARK, JUDGE.
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
W. GRUBER, Chief Judge.
Hegi appeals from the Faulkner County Circuit Court's
order terminating her parental rights to her son, KD, born
January 5, 2017. On appeal, she challenges both the circuit
court's findings of statutory grounds and its
best-interest determination. We affirm.
case began on January 7, 2017, when the Arkansas Department
of Human Services (DHS) took an emergency hold on two-day-old
KD due to abuse, neglect, and parental unfitness.
Specifically, the affidavit attached to the petition for
emergency custody described environmental issues and concerns
that Hegi did not "have the cognitive ability to care
for the infant and meet the infant's needs." On
February 21, 2017, the court adjudicated KD
dependent-neglected, specifically finding the following:
The home showed no signs of being prepared for a newborn baby
to reside there; did not have working utilities other than
water in one bathroom; was in a state of environmental
neglect including dog feces covering the floor in the home.
Additionally, the mother appeared to lack the mental capacity
to properly feed for and care for a newborn child.
Additionally, the mother was observed by DHS at supervised
visitation after the juvenile was taken into care and the
mother could not demonstrate the ability to properly care for
the juvenile without DHS providing guidance.
court set the goal as reunification with a concurrent goal of
relative placement. The court ordered Hegi to submit to a
psychological exam and follow the recommendations;
participate in counseling; complete parenting classes and
demonstrate improved, appropriate parenting skills after
completion; obtain and maintain stable and appropriate
housing and employment; maintain a clean, safe home;
demonstrate the ability to protect the child and keep him
safe; and attend all medical appointments set up for the
child when notified by DHS.
received a psychological evaluation on March 14, 2017, which
showed that she was in the mid-intellectual-deficit range. In
her interview, Hegi told the evaluator that her son was
removed from her custody for neglect because he was not
eating. She said that he would not eat "fast enough . .
. [and] acted like he wasn't hungry." She also said
that he had gained weight since being in DHS custody and she
was unaware how they got him to eat. Hegi reported to the
evaluator that she occasionally heard voices in her head.
Hegi's mother, with whom Hegi lived when KD was taken,
said that Hegi was slow and had anxiety but that she
"desire[d] to be right." She said that Hegi did not
drive but that she helped around the house by washing dishes
and sorting whites and colors for the laundry. The evaluation
stated that Hegi would have "moderate difficulty"
with independent parenting, would need "a good deal of
support and assistance" in any parenting, and "did
not present with the capability to effectively parent."
Specifically, the evaluation cited her lowered capability to
manage stress, the potential for decompensation when under
stress, and her lowered intellectual development.
after the adjudication hearing, KD was hospitalized for RSV
and pneumonia and remained there for a month. Doctors
discovered that KD suffered from a condition that made
swallowing difficult, and he was fitted with a
"G-tube" port that allowed him to receive nutrition
directly from a tube into his stomach. Hegi was given
training through Arkansas Children's Hospital on how to
operate the G-tube as well as hands-on participation with
KD's foster parents while feeding KD.
case proceeded and Hegi complied with the case plan by
completing parenting classes, completing medical training,
attending visitations, attending counseling, and remedying
the environmental issues by finding new and appropriate
housing. The court did note in the review order on August 22,
2017, that there had been issues with KD's feeding tube
after unsupervised visitation. The court held a
permanency-planning hearing on December 19, 2017, and found
that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide services
towards the permanency plan of reunification and that Hegi
had complied with the case plan and made "much"
progress toward alleviating the causes of removal. The court
continued the goal of reunification but found KD could not be
returned to Hegi's custody because she continued to be
unable to properly feed him.
April 13, 2018, DHS filed a petition to terminate Hegi's
parental rights. DHS pleaded the failure-to-remedy ground,
alleging that KD had been removed from Hegi's custody for
environmental issues and because Hegi lacked the cognitive
ability to provide for KD's basic needs. DHS contended
that one of the primary issues during the pendency of the
case was whether Hegi would be cognitively capable of using
KD's G-tube and ensuring that his basic health and
nutritional needs would be met. DHS stated that in spite of
numerous services, classes, encouragement, support, and
training having been offered to Hegi, she had not progressed
to a point where KD could safely be placed in her custody.
DHS alleged that using the feeding tube required an ability
to constantly reassess the situation, adapt quickly to any
changes, and recall and process information in order to
address those changes. It alleged that although Hegi had put
forth a good effort, the same concerns that existed at the
time KD came into DHS custody-regarding Hegi's cognitive
ability to meet KD's need-still existed; Hegi's level
of functioning was not likely to change; and none of the
services had adequately remedied the cause of removal.
court held a termination hearing on May 29, 2018. Cheryl
Taylor, Hegi's DHS caseworker, testified that KD had been
placed in foster care in part because Hegi was not able to
feed him correctly with a bottle. She testified that Hegi had
been compliant but that despite the services and training,
she could not "accomplish" and "master"
KD's feeding tube. She also testified that KD had
numerous regular medical appointments including occupational
and physical therapy, speech therapy, and a nutritionist. She
testified that Hegi had lacked the mental capacity to
properly feed her newborn, which brought him into DHS
custody, and that she continued to lack the ability to
properly care for him without guidance. She testified that
she did not know of any other services DHS could provide to
help Ms. Hegi with ...