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Covin v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

May 8, 2019



          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          BART F. VIRDEN, JUDGE.

         Dawnisha Covin appeals the order of the Sebastian County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to QJ (11/09/06) and KJ (01/04/08). On appeal, Covin asserts that termination was not in the children's best interest because the parental rights of the father, Keith Jarrett, were not also terminated. We affirm.

         We begin our analysis with a recognition that termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural rights of the parents. Crawford v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 330 Ark. 152, 951 S.W.2d 310 (1997). We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Dinkins v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 344 Ark. 207, 40 S.W.3d 286 (2001). In termination cases, the circuit court must find by clear and convincing evidence that a parent is unfit and that termination is in the best interest of the child. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). This normally involves a two-step analysis: (1) that the Arkansas Department of Human Services ("Department") prove one or more of the statutory grounds for termination and (2) that the termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A) & (B) (Supp. 2017). Because Covin does not challenge the statutory grounds, we will address only the best-interest portion of the analysis.

         I. Best Interest of the Children

         Covin argues that the termination of her parental rights was not necessary or essential to protect the best interest of the children. We turn our attention to the best-interest evidence before the circuit court.

         On January 3, 2017, the circuit court entered a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect regarding QJ, KJ, ZC, and DC.[1] In the affidavit attached to the petition, family-service worker Steven Trout recounted the events leading up to the removal of the children from Covin's custody. On December 30, 2016, police requested that a Department family-service worker go to Covin's home. When Trout arrived, police officers had already removed Covin from the residence because she had become aggressive with an officer. Officers informed Trout that Covin's roommate called police when Covin, who was a methamphetamine user and appeared to be under the influence of amphetamines, grabbed a baseball bat and began smashing furniture. When police arrived at the apartment, they could hear the children crying and Covin screaming and cursing. They heard a heavy glass object hit the front door, and Covin shouted, "I don't want no police kicking in my fucking door." Eventually, Covin opened the door, and the officers could see broken glass all around and the children huddled together on the sofa. After a few questions from the police, Covin "seemed to completely lose any control she had at that point." She poked an officer in the chest when he tried to examine a cut on one of the children's hands, and after taking "an aggressive posture" with an officer, she was arrested. The children were very upset and afraid to speak to family-service workers. At the detention center, Trout attempted to interview Covin, but she was confrontational and aggressive, and she refused a drug screen. Covin was charged with four counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, resisting arrest, and second-degree assault. The Department alleged that the children's safety was in danger due to Covin's violent and dangerous behavior, her drug use, her refusal to be drug screened, and her arrest, which left the children without a guardian.

         On the same day the emergency petition was filed, the circuit court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody and an order finding that there was probable cause that emergency conditions that necessitated the removal of the children from Covin's custody. Covin was ordered to stay in contact with the Department, submit to drug screens, and have no contact with the children.

         The circuit court entered an adjudication order on June 19, 2017. In the order, the circuit court found that Covin had prior history with the Department and that "[Covin] appears to have relapsed and has engaged in behaviors that created an unsafe environment for the juveniles." Covin's arrest caused the children to be without a caregiver, and she tested positive for THC at the hearing. The court found by a preponderance of the evidence that the children were dependent-neglected, and it ordered Covin to obtain stable employment, transportation, housing, and income; complete parenting classes; undergo domestic-abuse counseling; undergo a psychological evaluation and complete any treatment recommended; submit to drug screening; resolve all criminal charges; stay in contact with the Department; and apprise the Department of her contact information and any significant events.

         On November 29, the circuit court entered a review order in which it found that Covin had not appeared at the review hearing, and her whereabouts were unknown. The court found that she had not complied with the case plan. The court noted that KJ and QJ's father, Keith Jarrett, was incarcerated at the time of the adjudication hearing and that he was released shortly after the hearing; however, Jarrett had been arrested again on new drug charges and had been incarcerated since then. Neither Covin nor Jarrett had obtained stable housing, employment, or transportation, and they had not completed counseling or undergone any psychological evaluation or drug screening. The parents had not resolved their criminal charges or maintained contact with the Department.

         On March 12, 2018, the court entered the permanency-planning order. In it, the court found that return of the children to Covin's custody was contrary to their welfare and that the Department's custody should continue. The court changed the goal of the case to adoption and found that the children had been out of the home for twelve months, the parents had not made significant or measurable progress in the case plan or toward reunification, and the children could not be safely returned to the parents in a time period consistent with their needs. The court noted that Jarrett was out on bond, and his whereabouts were unknown. The court found that Covin had been present at the permanency-planning hearing; however, until recently, she believed that she would receive a lengthy prison sentence and had seen no reason to participate in the case plan. When Covin accepted a plea offer that did not include prison time, she decided to rehabilitate herself. The court observed that Covin recently made "eleventh-hour efforts" to avail herself of non-Department services provided by "Sister-to-Sister," an entity Covin admitted was created by her mother, Evelyn. Evelyn also signed Covin's certificates of completion of those parenting classes. Covin testified that she would test positive for drugs if screened that day. The ...

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