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Brown v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 11, 2019

KENDRA BROWN APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPE AL FR O M T HE PU LASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, ELEVENTH DIVISION [NO. 60JV-17-812], HONORABLE PATRICIA JAMES, 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.

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, JUDGE.

         Kendra Brown appeals from the November 7, 2018 order of the Pulaski County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her twins, daughter KB1 and son KB2 (born October 9, 2011).[1] On appeal, Brown's sole challenge is to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court's best-interest finding. We affirm.

         On July 11, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. The affidavit of the DHS caseworker attached to the petition stated that on July 8, a report was called in to the child-abuse hotline against Brown alleging medical neglect because of her drug use. The caseworker's investigation revealed that KB2 had suffered a head injury on June 11, 2017, that required stitches. Brown was to return KB2 to the doctor ten days later to remove the stitches, but she did not do so. On July 8, KB2 jumped off a couch and hit his head again, which led to another hospital admission and the child-abuse-hotline call. When asked why she did not return KB2 to the doctor to have his stitches removed, Brown stated that she felt it was not time to take them out and that she was cleaning the stitches herself. The caseworker performed a drug test on Brown on July 8, and the results were positive for THC and cocaine. Brown admitted marijuana use but denied cocaine use. Based on Brown's drug use and medical neglect, the caseworker exercised a hold on the children.

         An emergency order was entered on July 12, 2017, and on July 17, the circuit court entered a probable-cause order. On August 28, the circuit court adjudicated KB1 and KB2 dependent-neglected based on the parties' stipulation of (1) medical neglect due to KB2's head injury and (2) parental unfitness due to Brown's drug use and KB1's exposure to drug use after her hair-follicle test was positive for THC and cocaine.[2]

         A review order was entered by the circuit court on November 27, 2017, wherein the court noted the testimony of a DHS caseworker that Brown had completed parenting classes and a psychological evaluation, had obtained an apartment, had participated in substance-abuse treatment, and had obtained employment. The circuit court also noted that Brown had tested positive for the prescription medication buprenorphine[3] on October 25, 2017, and that Brown had not provided a prescription for it. The court found that Brown was making slow progress in the case and continued the goal as reunification.

         On March 14, 2018, DHS filed a motion requesting that Brown be allowed unsupervised visitation with her children. DHS alleged that Brown had been cooperative, had completed outpatient treatment in February, and was engaged in services. The circuit court granted this motion the next day.

         A permanency-planning order was entered on May 16, 2018. In the order, the circuit court noted that the caseworker had testified that DHS recommended slowly transitioning the children back to Brown's care. The caseworker stated that Brown had completed parenting classes and outpatient treatment, she was working and participating in counseling, and her drug screens had been negative in January, February, and May. In the order, the circuit court noted that Brown's hair-follicle test was positive for THC in November 2017; yet the court continued the goal of reunification and authorized unsupervised visitation with her children away from the DHS office with no overnight visitation until she was negative on a hair-follicle test.

         On July 11, 2018, the attorney ad litem filed a motion to modify Brown's visitation, alleging that her July 2018 hair-follicle-test results were positive for "cocaine, benzoylecgonine, and cocaethylene." The circuit court granted the motion the following day and ordered that Brown's visits be supervised at the DHS office.

         After a fifteen-month permanency-planning hearing, the court entered an order on July 30, 2018. In this order, the court noted the testimony of the caseworker who had recommended that Brown's parental rights be terminated because Brown had not successfully addressed her drug issues that caused the case to open. The caseworker acknowledged the bond between Brown and her twins and that Brown had completed many of the services offered, but the caseworker had concerns about Brown's positive July 2018 hair-follicle test along with the facts that Brown was seven months pregnant and used drugs during her pregnancy. Brown testified at the permanency-planning hearing that she last used marijuana on July 28, 2017, and she continued to deny cocaine use despite the positive hair-follicle-test results. The circuit court found that Brown was in "deep denial and not understanding (or claiming not to understand) even why the children came into care." The court changed the goal of the case to adoption with termination of parental rights.

         DHS and the attorney ad litem filed a joint petition to terminate Brown's parental rights on August 17, 2018. The petition alleged that termination was in the children's best ...


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