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Allen-Grace v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

May 22, 2019

CHARITY ALLEN-GRACE APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72JV-17-482] HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE

          Tabitha McNulty, 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.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE

         Charity Allen-Grace appeals the termination of her parental rights to her three children-A.S., A.G.1, and A.G.2. On appeal, she argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the court's best-interest determination. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In February 2018, we affirmed the Washington County Circuit Court's determination that A.S., A.G.1, and A.G.2. were dependent-neglected. Allen-Grace v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 83, 542 S.W.3d 205. In April 2018, the circuit court entered a permanency-planning order. It found that Charity had complied partially with the case plan by maintaining contact with DHS, maintaining a safe and clean home, and staying employed. The court, however, also found that Charity stopped submitting to random drug screens, failed to complete individual counseling, and was arrested for sexually assaulting A.S.'s boyfriend, a minor. Charity also had a previous misdemeanor-assault charge with A.S. as the victim. The court further found that Charity married Kenneth Shaw, a prisoner in Missouri. The court noted that the juveniles were being cared for by relatives and termination of parental rights was in the children's best interest. The court ordered Charity to cooperate with DHS, complete a psychological evaluation, abstain from illegal drugs or alcohol, not abuse prescription drugs, submit to random drug screens twice a month, and "demonstrate ability to protect juveniles and keep them safe from harm," among other things. In May 2018, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition to terminate Charity's parental rights.

         The circuit court convened hearings on DHS's termination petition on 1 August, 14 September, and 4 October 2018. The parties presented the prior orders in the case, a court report, A.S.'s counseling report, a court appointed special advocate (CASA) report, a visitation log, and a letter from Charity to the circuit court. The evidence showed that Charity owns a house in Springdale, which a CASA worker observed to be "clean, safe, and appropriate," that Charity's marriage to Kenneth Shaw was annulled in June 2018, and that Charity works as an accountant for a tile store.

         After the children were initially removed from their mother's custody, the circuit court placed custody of A.S. with her paternal grandparents Peter Halpern and Leslie Halpern and custody of A.G.1 and A.G.2 with their paternal grandparents, Joanne Grace and Albert Grace. By all accounts, the children were doing well living with their paternal grandparents. A.S., A.G.1, and A.G.2 had monthly sibling visits. The DHS visitation log showed that Charity attended almost all weekly visits with the children from 6 July 2017 to 2 October 2018.

         According to DHS's drug-screen log for Charity, she had a "verified prescription for Xanax" and tested positive for "BZO" on more than one occasion. Charity failed to show up for four of the thirteen scheduled drug tests from April to September 2018.

         A.G.1 and A.G.2's therapist, Kimberly Elliott, testified that she believed it would be detrimental to the girls' mental health for the court to return custody of the children to Charity. This was because of the traumas experienced by the girls when they were with Charity. In her opinion, the girls have a "very insecure attachment" to each other because of the instability in their lives. Elliott diagnosed A.G.1 with adjustment disorder with anxiety and A.G.2 with other-specified-trauma-related disorder. She said that A.G.1 was "working out in her mind" why Charity would be in bed all day or have slurred speech. And A.G. 2 was piecing together that "Mom's put bad things in her body, so her mind doesn't work the same[.]" In short, Charity had substance-misuse issues that were apparent to her children.

         Therapist Jessica Kitchens testified that A.S. had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. According to Kitchens, it would set back A.S. "tremendously" to return to her mother. Returning custody to Charity would be harmful to A.S.'s mental health because she would not feel safe. In Kitchens's view, A.S.'s living with the Halperns has helped A.S. feel safe and has been a calm environment for her.

         Caseworker Kari Horton testified that A.S. wanted to be adopted by the Halperns and that she was thriving in their care. A.S.'s father, Matthew Steed, [1] was supportive of his parents adopting A.S. In Horton's opinion, Charity had kept DHS informed throughout the case, had maintained stable housing and employment, had submitted to random drug screens, had demonstrated ...


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