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Blackwood v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

May 1, 2019

STEVEN BLACKWOOD APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72JV-17-49] HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE

          Osborne & Wilmoth Law Firm, by: Ken Osborne, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, JUDGE

         Appellant Steven Blackwood appeals after the Washington County Circuit Court filed an order terminating his parental rights to B.H. (DOB 11-20-2016).[1] Appellant argues on appeal that the trial court erred in terminating his parental rights because the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to meet its burden of proof and comply with court orders. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         On January 23, 2017, DHS filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody and dependency-neglect of B.H. In the affidavit attached to the petition, DHS stated that B.H. was removed from his mother's care and custody after it was reported that both Lindsay and B.H. tested positive for opiates, amphetamines, and methamphetamine at B.H.'s birth. The trial court granted the petition, finding that probable cause existed for the removal. The trial court found that there was probable cause to believe that B.H. was dependent-neglected and that it was contrary to his welfare to remain with Lindsay.

         Subsequently, a probable-cause hearing was held on January 24, 2017, and the trial court filed a probable-cause order. The trial court found that it was contrary to B.H.'s welfare for him to be returned to his mother's custody. Appellant was referenced in the order as B.H.'s putative father. The trial court noted that Lindsay had not demonstrated stability or sobriety, that B.H. had to remain in the hospital for two months due to his undergoing withdrawal from illegal drugs, and that appellant was incarcerated. In relevant part, appellant was ordered to cooperate with DHS, refrain from using illegal drugs or alcohol, obtain and maintain stable housing and employment that was adequate for him and B.H., demonstrate an ability to protect B.H. and keep him safe from harm, take the appropriate steps to establish paternity, and follow the case plan and court orders.

         In the March 22, 2017 adjudication and disposition order, B.H. was found to be dependent-neglected as a result of neglect and parental unfitness. The trial court specifically found that appellant was B.H.'s biological father after appellant had signed an acknowledgment of paternity. The order additionally noted that appellant was incarcerated. An order of paternity was subsequently filed on June 30, 2017.

         A review hearing was also held on June 30. The trial court found that B.H. had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and had special needs, including the need for intensive supervision and multiple therapies. The trial court further found that

Steven Blackwood has not complied with any of the court orders and the case plan. Specifically, Steven Blackwood remains incarcerated. He was on parole for Manufacturing Methamphetamine and received a Parole Violation for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident. He expects to be out of prison in 6-9 months. He has not maintained contact with DHS; has not demonstrated sobriety; has not demonstrated stability in housing and employment; has not demonstrated that he can protect B.H. and keep him safe from harm. He is in noncompliance.
He has made no progress towards alleviating or mitigating the causes of the juvenile's removal from the home and completing the court orders and requirements of the case plan.

         In addition to its previous orders, the trial court ordered appellant to resolve all criminal charges and follow the terms of his probation and/or parole and to participate in the classes available to him in prison. The trial court further declined to place B.H. with his paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Heath. It explained that it had concerns with placing B.H. in her care because B.H.'s stepmother, Steffanie Blackwood, lived in the home and has a felony record; B.H. needed to have continued medical coverage; it was in B.H.'s interest to remain in his current foster home due to his serious special medical needs; and there were three other children already living in the grandmother's home who also had special medical needs. However, the trial court ordered DHS to conduct a home study and did not require Steffanie to move out before the home study was conducted.

         After the December 13, 2017 permanency-planning hearing, the trial court changed the goal to adoption and authorized DHS to file a petition for termination of parental rights. The trial court found that neither parent was fit. Regarding appellant, the trial court found the following:

With respect to Father - it is Father's own actions that have caused him to go to prison six (6) times. Father cannot provide for [B.H.] or meet his needs due to Father's incarceration. The Court cannot place [B.H.] with Father today. Father will be incarcerated until at least August of 2018. Father has not made measurable, sustainable progress toward the goal of reunification. The Court notes that incarceration of a parent does not mean that their responsibility to their children stops. Father has a responsibility to provide for [B.H.], but is unable to do so because his choices and actions led to his being incarcerated. Father testified he was denied ...

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