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Drane v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

May 8, 2019



          Tina Bowers Lee, 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.


         Appellant, Christi Drane, appeals from two orders of the Madison County Circuit Court resulting in the termination of her parental rights to her two children: SW, born October 16, 2008; and AW, born May 20, 2010. She appeals from the permanency-planning order, contending that the court erred in changing the goal from reunification to adoption, and she challenges both the circuit court's findings of statutory grounds and its best-interest determination in the termination order. We affirm the circuit court's orders.

         I. Procedural History

         On June 16, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) removed the children from Christi's custody and on June 20 filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. DHS alleged that the children were dependent-neglected because Christi had allowed her husband, George Drane, the children's stepfather, to return to the family home after SW alleged that he had touched her inappropriately. DHS became involved with the family after the sexual-abuse allegation had been made and found to be true by the Crimes Against Children Division of the Arkansas State Police (CACD) in November 2016. Christi was advised at that time to obtain an order of protection against George and for George to move out of the home or for Christi to take the children and move elsewhere. Christi filed for an order of protection on November 18, 2016, but requested that the order be dismissed on December 20, 2016, and George moved back into the family home.

         DHS received a call to the hotline in June 2017 that Christi had allowed George to return to the home, prompting the emergency hold based on Christi's failure to protect. In the affidavit attached to the petition for emergency custody, DHS outlined its history with George, which included true findings for child maltreatment in 1996 and 2010. In an adjudication order entered on August 16, 2017, the circuit court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected as a result of neglect, parental unfitness, and sexual abuse. The court specifically found the allegations by SW against George to be true and found that Christi had failed to protect the children. The court set reunification as the goal of the case but reminded Christi that the "clock is ticking and there is a limited amount of time" for her to participate in the case plan and correct the conditions that caused removal of the children, warning her that failure to correct the conditions could result in termination of her parental rights.

         The court held review hearings on December 21, 2017, and April 27, 2018, finding at both hearings that the children could not safely be returned to Christi because she continued to live with and be married to George and did not believe that SW had been sexually abused. After the April review hearing, the court added a concurrent goal of adoption.

         II. Permanency-Planning Hearing

         On June 1, 2018, the court held a permanency-planning hearing. Catherine Piercy, SW's professional counselor, testified that she had seen SW periodically for years, since SW was in preschool, and had been seeing her regularly for over a year regarding emotional issues from the sexual abuse. She said that she also met periodically with Christi to counsel her on family and parenting issues. Ms. Piercy testified that it would be traumatic for SW to return to a home where George lives and would signal to her that she would not be protected. She testified that SW was aware that her mother did not believe her about the abuse. Ms. Piercy said SW continued to need therapy but had made a great deal of progress on both behavioral and emotional issues. Ms. Piercy also said that Christi had not recognized SW's issues arising from the trauma and was still "pretty clear" in her belief that it did not happen, indicating that Christi had mentioned that someone else, not George, might have sexually abused SW in the past. She testified that she was not certain that Christi recognized situations that might not be safe.

         The DHS caseworker for the family, Whitney Widner, testified that DHS recommended changing the goal of the case to adoption due to Christi's continuing inability to protect her children. She testified that Christi remained in a relationship with and married to George, even though they had separated a month before the permanency-planning hearing.

         Christi testified that she and George had separated, although they remained married. She said that they might "eventually" divorce. She said that she did not believe SW's sexual-abuse allegation against George but wanted her children home and would "do what I got to." She testified that she had three children in addition to AW and SW, none of whom were raised by her: a twenty-one-year-old son had lived with Christi's mother since he was one year old; a son who was almost twenty and had been placed for adoption ...

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