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Yelvington v. Arkansas Department of Human Services And Minor Child

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

June 5, 2019



          Dusti Standridge, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         Stephanie Yelvington appeals from the order of the Washington County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her son, CY. She also appeals the permanency-planning order changing the goal of the case to termination of parental rights and adoption. On appeal, she argues that it was error to change the goal of the case to termination and adoption because she was demonstrating sustainable investment in the case plan and was making measurable progress. She also argues that termination of her parental rights was not in CY's best interest. We affirm.

         On March 13, 2018, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) received a call on the child-abuse hotline that six-year-old CY had been sexually abused by his father, John Rogers. The call was made by CY's mother from the child's school because CY disclosed the abuse to school staff, and the staff gave the mother the option to call, or they would. Yelvington admitted CY had already told her about being raped by his father, but she had told CY not to tell anyone. DHS investigated, and Yelvington said CY had told her "his daddy had . . . made him get on his hands and knees, pulled his pants down, and stuck his 'mhm' in his butt." Yelvington knew that Rogers had a true finding against him for sexually abusing two other children. There had been a protection plan in place, signed by both Yelvington and Rogers, that provided that CY would not be allowed to have unsupervised contact with Rogers.

         On March 15, 2018, DHS exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on CY based on suspected sexual abuse and Yelvington's failure to protect. The case proceeded through emergency, probable-cause, and adjudication hearings. CY was adjudicated dependent-neglected due to sexual abuse, neglect, and parental unfitness. Specifically, the circuit court found that the allegations in the petition were true and correct and that "the evidence is horrific, clear and convincing that John Rogers anally raped [CY]. Stephanie Yelvington failed to protect [CY] from the sexual abuse by John Rogers." The circuit court further found that

Yelvington knew of the dangers John Rogers posed but violated the safety plan. . . . [CY] told Mother at least twice but Mother did nothing to stop the abuse and did not call the police. The Court today finds that Stephanie . . . subjected [CY] to sexual abuse including, aggravated circumstances under A.C.A. § 9-27-341, for sexual abuse.

         The goal of the case was set as reunification with a concurrent goal of adoption. Yelvington was ordered to follow the case plan and court orders and demonstrate the ability to protect the juvenile and keep him safe from harm. The next hearing was set as a permanency-planning hearing.

         On June 21, 2018, the circuit court held a permanency-planning hearing. At that hearing, the court heard from Katie Cuff, CY's therapist. She testified that CY is progressing in therapy, has reduced anxiety, and is developing greater self-esteem in therapy. Rosalinda Medrano, CY's caseworker, testified next. She testified that the family has a history with DHS because CY was previously malnourished due to severe food allergies and an avoidant/restrictive food-intake disorder. She said that he is thriving since coming into foster care. Medrano stated that Yelvington is cooperative and completing all her services. She testified that Yelvington was diagnosed with an intellectual-development disorder and that the psychological evaluation provided that it is "unlikely that Ms. Yelvington will be able to manage CY on her own as he grows and develops." The report further provided that Yelvington is "easily overwhelmed" and "relies on others to take care of her." Medrano testified that considering all of CY's needs (allergies, nutritional, psychological) and Yelvington's psychological report, CY could not be safely returned to Yelvington's home and that the case goal should be changed to adoption. Medrano acknowledged that Yelvington is making progress but that the case is complicated considering all of CY's needs.

         Also at this hearing, the circuit court heard testimony about possibly placing CY with Yelvington's stepsister, Cindy Adler. Adler worked for DHS, but the court found it was not in CY's interest to place him with Adler at the time because Adler did not have a significant relationship with the child and because Adler "pulled some strings" at DHS to get CY's case "restricted"-which restricted Medrano's access to CY and his crimes-against-children-investigation interviews and information-and which the court found was to CY's detriment. The goal of the case was changed to authorizing a plan for adoption and termination of parental rights.

         On August 30, 2018, DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights, alleging the grounds of sexual abuse, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vi)(a) (Supp. 2017), and aggravated circumstances, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(3)(B). On October 3, the circuit court held a termination-of-parental-rights hearing.

         At the beginning of the hearing, the court denied motions for reconsideration and 54(b) certification from the permanency-planning order. Adler's second motion for intervention was likewise denied. Next, it heard testimony from Cuff, who testified that CY was continuing to improve in therapy. It then heard testimony from Medrano. Medrano testified that Yelvington was following the case plan but that DHS was still concerned that Yelvington was unable to keep CY safe. She explained that the hold from the failure to protect and sexual abuse actually took place while there was an open protective-services case on CY for his malnutrition with Yelvington being the offender. Medrano testified that even before removal, Yelvington ...

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