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Wright v. Arkansas Department of Human Services and Minor Children

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

May 8, 2019

JENNIFER WRIGHT APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FJV-15-457] HONORABLE LEIGH ZUERKER, JUDGE

          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          Larry D. Vaught, Judge.

         Jennifer Wright appeals the order entered by the Sebastian County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to three of her children, BW (born April 11, 2003), AW (born May 31, 2005), and EW (born June 30, 2007). On appeal, Wright contends that the circuit court clearly erred in finding that statutory grounds supported termination and that termination was in her children's best interest. We affirm.

         On September 13, 2015, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on Wright's four children-JR (born December 30, 2000), BW, AW, and EW[1]-based on allegations that Wright slapped JR in the face during an argument about a lack of food in the home. DHS filed a petition for emergency custody alleging that the juveniles were dependent-neglected due to abuse, neglect, and parental unfitness. The affidavit of a DHS caseworker accompanying the petition stated that there was very little food in the home, Wright admitted striking JR, Wright was arrested for third-degree domestic assault, and she admitted using marijuana. The circuit court entered an ex parte order of emergency custody.

         Following an adjudication hearing, the circuit court found that the children were dependent-neglected due to neglect and parental unfitness. The circuit court continued the custody of the children with DHS and established reunification as the goal of the case. Wright was ordered to maintain stable housing, income, and transportation; complete parenting classes; complete a drug-and-alcohol assessment and follow any recommendations from that assessment; submit to random drug screens; resolve her criminal issues; visit the children regularly; and take her medication as directed.

         Review-hearing orders were entered in December 2015 and May and August 2016. In these orders, the circuit court found that Wright was complying with the case plan in that she had maintained stable housing, income, and transportation; completed parenting classes; visited BW, AW, and EW; submitted to random drug testing and two hair-follicle tests; resolved her criminal issues; and attended a psychological evaluation. She was ordered to take her medications, continue counseling, and obtain her driver's license. In these orders, DHS was found to have made reasonable efforts to achieve the goal of reunification by referring Wright for a psychological evaluation and a drug-and-alcohol assessment; referring the children for counseling and PACE evaluations; and providing clothing vouchers, transportation, medical services, and visitation. Reunification remained the goal of the case.

         A permanency-planning order was entered by the court on September 27, 2016, wherein the court found that Wright had a home, income, and transportation; completed parenting classes; attended a drug-and-alcohol assessment; attended group therapy; and submitted to drug screens. The court further found that Wright needed to obtain a driver's license, continue group therapy, visit the children, take her medication as directed, and continue participating in JR's therapy. The court stated that Wright needed budgeting assistance and ordered DHS to assist with that need.

         In December 2016, DHS recommended that Wright have a trial home placement with BW, AW, and EW. In February 2017, the circuit court entered a fifteen-month review order wherein the court found that Wright had housing, income, a driver's license, and transportation; tested negative on drug screens; and completed parenting classes and a drug-and-alcohol assessment. Wright was directed to participate in counseling with JR as recommended and obtain tags for her vehicle. DHS was ordered to assist with obtaining Wright's medication. Reunification remained the goal of the case, but the court also found that concurrent planning in the form of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) was appropriate for JR. The circuit court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to finalize a permanency plan for BW, AW, and EW.

         In an April 2017 review order, the circuit court ended the trial home placement of AW because of concerns about AW's behavior and the risks it posed for both her and Wright if AW remained in the home. The court found that AW and JR should continue in the custody of DHS but that BW and EW would remain in Wright's custody. The circuit court determined the case goal was "family preservation" for BW and EW, reunification for AW, and APPLA for JR. The court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts with the services and that Wright was in compliance with the case plan because she had a driver's license, transportation, income, and housing. However, the court noted that "it would like to see more stable housing and income long term."

         In July 2017, the circuit court entered a second permanency-planning order finding Wright had legal custody of BW and EW, but the children's aunt, Vicky Granlun, had physical custody of them because Wright did not have housing. JR and AW were ordered to remain in the custody of DHS. The goal of the case remained the same, and DHS was found to have made reasonable efforts to provide family services to achieve the goal of reunification, including the additional services of a trial home placement, home visits, and homemaking services.

         In October 2017, the circuit court entered a review order finding that Wright did not have stable housing, income, or transportation. The court continued legal custody of BW and EW with Wright but gave Granlun physical custody of them. The circuit court also found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to achieve permanency goals and APPLA. The court ordered ...


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