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Bratton v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 18, 2019

Patricia BRATTON, Appellant
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES and Minor Children, Appellees

Page 663

          APPEAL FROM THE CRAWFORD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 17JV-17-173], HONORABLE MICHAEL MEDLOCK, JUDGE

          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

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

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

         OPINION

         LARRY D. VAUGHT, Judge

          Patricia Bratton appeals the Crawford County Circuit Court’s order terminating her parental rights to her two children, E.B. and N.B. She challenges the sufficiency

Page 664

of the evidence to support the court’s finding that termination was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

          The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) began investigating Bratton for child maltreatment when N.B. tested positive for amphetamines at birth in May 2017. Following the birth, DHS could not locate Bratton and her children until September 18, 2017. When DHS made contact with Bratton, she appeared to be hungover, was slurring her words, and had bloodshot eyes. She was living with her boyfriend, Jack Thomas. A drug screen administered to Bratton on September 18 revealed abnormal results based on its "lack of temperature." DHS was unable to observe N.B. that day because she was being cared for by a babysitter who was identified as Bratton’s friend, Meadow. Bratton’s older daughter, E.B., told DHS that she wanted to go live with her "Nana." DHS set a follow-up meeting for September 20, 2017.

          Bratton was an hour late for the September 20 meeting and failed to bring E.B. and N.B. as instructed. Bratton tested positive for methamphetamine on this date. Bratton then took DHS employees to observe the children, who were again at Meadow’s house. The employees found Meadow’s home to be extremely hot. Meadow and two men were frantically trying to clean the house and shut doors to various rooms. DHS informed Bratton that Meadow was not an appropriate babysitter. DHS scheduled a follow-up meeting for October 10, 2017.

          Before that meeting occurred, DHS was informed on September 22, that E.B. had been coming to school hungry and with head lice and that she had been touching herself inappropriately at school. E.B. was absent from school on the day the report was made to DHS. On the same day, law enforcement requested DHS’s assistance because N.B. had again been left at Meadow’s home. When DHS arrived at Meadow’s house, they found N.B. left alone in the care of a man named Austin Uselton, who was under the influence of drugs at the time, had drug paraphernalia around N.B., and had pending drug-related criminal charges.

          DHS then exercised an emergency hold on both children, and the circuit court signed an ex parte order for emergency custody a few days later. On October 2, 2017, the circuit court held a probable-cause hearing at which it found that removal was warranted and that it was necessary for the children to remain in DHS custody. On November 2, the court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected following the parties’ stipulation as to Bratton’s parental unfitness due to her continued use of alcohol and drugs and her history of leaving the children with inappropriate caretakers. The court found DHS’s allegations in its original petition to be true and correct, and it found that Roger Blasingame is the legal father of E.B. The court set concurrent case goals of reunification and relative placement. It ordered Bratton to comply with the court’s orders and follow the case plan.

          On February 1, 2018, the court held a review hearing and found that both children had been placed together in foster care and that Bratton had only partially complied with the case plan. She visited the children regularly and maintained contact with DHS but had tested positive on drug screens and missed counseling sessions. The court also had concerns about Bratton’s housing because she lived with unknown, unrelated individuals. The court ordered her to complete parenting classes, follow all ...


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