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Arnold v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

May 29, 2019

NATHAN ARNOLD AND JESSICA DAVIS APPELLANTS
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE CRAWFORD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 17JV-17-110] HONORABLE MICHAEL MEDLOCK, JUDGE

          Dusti Standridge, for appellant Nathan Arnold.

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, Dependency-Neglect Appellate Division, for appellant Jessica Davis.

          Ellen K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          BART F. VIRDEN, JUDGE

         In this termination-of-parental-rights case, both parents, appellants Nathan Arnold and Jessica Davis, separately appeal the Crawford County Circuit Court's order terminating their parental rights to NA (04/10/09) and ZA (03/02/12). The parents challenge both the statutory grounds for termination and the circuit court's best-interest determination. We affirm.

         I. Relevant Facts

         On May 22, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (the "Department") filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect contending that the removal of ZA and NA from their parents' custody was necessary to protect their health, safety, and welfare. Nathan was named as the putative father. In the affidavit attached to the petition, the Department asserted that on May 12, a family-service worker went to Nathan and Jessica's home and found severe environmental neglect. The family-service worker saw wet and dry trash throughout the house, piles of clothes, standing water in the bathroom sink, pet feces and urine, old food in the refrigerator and on the countertops, cigarette butts and ashes, and the home smelled strongly of pet feces. Both parents were drug tested and were positive for THC, barbiturates, opioids, benzodiazepine, and Oxycontin, and they could not provide prescriptions for any drugs. On May 15, the Department returned to reassess the situation. There was little improvement, and the family-service worker helped the parents remove some of the clutter, including a mattress and a couch soaked in urine. On May 18, a family-service worker returned to the home and saw that the condition was unchanged. The parents tested positive for the same drugs as before. ZA and NA were removed from Nathan and Jessica's custody, and the Department placed a seventy-two-hour emergency hold on the children.

         The circuit court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on May 22, 2017. On May 30, the court entered a probable-cause and paternity order placing ZA and NA in the Department's custody. The circuit court found that emergency conditions necessitated the removal of the children from the parents' custody, and it was contrary to their welfare to be returned home. The court declared Nathan to be the legal father. An amended petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect was entered on July 5 identifying Nathan as the biological father of the children.

         On July 6, the circuit court entered an adjudication order in which it found that the allegations in the petition were true and that the parties had stipulated to dependency-neglect because of parental unfitness. The court found that Nathan, a noncustodial parent, contributed to the dependency-neglect of the children because he lived in the home and failed to address the environmental neglect. The parents were ordered to obey the orders of the court and comply with the case plan. Specifically, the circuit court ordered them to submit to drug-and-alcohol assessment and follow all recommendations, obtain appropriate housing, maintain contact with the Department and disclose all contact information, exercise visitation, and display proper parenting. The parents were ordered to pay child support.

         On October 5, 2017, the circuit court entered a review order in which it found that safety concerns prevented both trial placement with the parents and return of the children to their custody. The circuit court found that Nathan and Jessica were unwilling or unable to meet the children's needs as evidenced by the continued environmental issues and drug use. The circuit court found the Department had made reasonable efforts to provide homemaking services, family-service-worker contact, transportation, assistance with Medicaid, psychological evaluations, counseling, parenting classes, and drug screening. The circuit court found that Jessica had minimally complied with the case plan. Jessica was unemployed, continued to use drugs, failed to complete either a drug assessment or a psychological evaluation, failed to attend counseling, intermittently visited with the children and displayed inappropriate parenting techniques during visits, and she had not maintained contact with the Department or cooperated with the Department until recently. Nathan, who at the time of the order was at an inpatient mental-health facility, was also found to have minimally complied with the case plan. The court found that Nathan was unemployed, continued to use drugs, failed to complete a drug assessment or a psychological evaluation, intermittently visited the children and displayed inappropriate parenting techniques, and had not maintained contact with the Department or cooperated with the Department; also, "due to an incident during transport to a visitation, the Department is no longer able to transport the father to visitation, but continues to offer transportation assistance in the form of gas cards." The court found that the home was still filthy and that the parents had not participated in services or made progress toward reunification. The court noted that both parents had scheduled drug-and-alcohol assessments and psychological evaluations. The court found that "the parents need all their financial resources to achieve or maintain reunification" and that the Department was permitted to petition the court to require payment for the parents' failure to keep scheduled appointments.

         On January 18, 2017, the circuit court entered a review order in which it found that the parents were still abusing drugs, they had minimally complied with the case plan, and the condition of the home was unchanged. The court found that the Department had complied with the case plan and orders of the court by providing homemaking services, family-service-worker contact, transportation, counseling, parenting classes, and drug screening. The court noted that Nathan was receiving inpatient care at a mental-health facility. The parents were ordered to comply with the case plan.

         On April 19, 2018, following a hearing, the circuit court entered a permanency-planning order changing the goal of the case to adoption. The court determined that Jessica had not obtained appropriate housing, was unemployed, had not completed a psychological evaluation, had not obtained photo identification, had not attended drug treatment and continued to use illegal drugs, and had not cooperated with the Department. The court noted that she had begun attending visitation more regularly. The court found that Nathan had also failed to obtain employment or housing, failed to complete his psychological evaluation, possessed illegal substances, and had not cooperated with the ...


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