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Stowell v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

September 25, 2019

SUMER STOWELL APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FJV-16-374] HONORABLE ANNIE POWELL HENDRICKS, JUDGE

          Tina Bowers Lee, 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.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE

         Sumer Stowell appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Court order permanently placing her children with their father, Curley Holden. On appeal, Stowell argues that the circuit court erred by finding that the placement was in the children's best interest. We affirm.

         On August 26, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for dependency-neglect concerning C.H.1 and C.H.2. The petition listed Stowell as the mother and Holden as the legal father, and it noted that the children resided with Stowell. In the affidavit attached to the petition, DHS alleged that (1) Stowell's stepfather had sexually abused the children in January 2016 and (2) Stowell's son from another relationship, J.O., had sexually abused the children in January 2016 and again in August 2016. DHS proposed a safety plan that would allow the children to remain in Stowell's custody.

         Also on August 26, the ad litem filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect and a motion for no reasonable efforts. The ad litem alleged that removal of the children from Stowell's custody was necessary to protect their health, safety, and physical well-being. The ad litem further alleged that Stowell had tested positive for methamphetamine and THC on or about August 17, 2016. The ad litem requested that the court find that DHS had failed to provide reasonable efforts to protect the children and to prevent the need for their removal. The court entered an ex parte order of emergency custody but reserved a ruling on the no-reasonable-efforts issue.

         The court held a probable-cause hearing on August 31, 2016, and it entered an order on October 25. The court found probable cause for the emergency custody and that DHS had made reasonable efforts to prevent the removal of the children.

         On October 31, the court held an adjudication hearing and adjudicated the children dependent-neglected on the bases of parental unfitness, substance abuse, and sexual abuse. The court found that both Stowell and Holden were offenders with respect to the finding of parental unfitness. The court noted that Holden previously had a true finding for physical abuse of his nephew in his custody and that the child was in DHS custody as a result of the finding.

         The court held a review hearing on February 8, 2017. The court found that the parents had some compliance with the case plan. As to Stowell, the court found that she had completed her drug-and-alcohol assessment but had not completed treatment. The court noted that she had housing and limited income and that she had regularly visited the children. As to Holden, the court found that he had stable income, housing, and transportation. The court ordered that he complete a psychological evaluation and any recommended treatment, complete parenting-without-violence classes, resolve his outstanding criminal charges, and comply with the terms and conditions of any sentences.

         On May 24, the court held a permanency-planning hearing. The court authorized DHS to obtain a permanent custodian and noted that Holden had a good relationship with the children and had visited regularly and appropriately. The court further noted that Holden was attending parenting-without-violence classes as required by his sentence for his conviction of physical abuse of his nephew. The court found his living arrangements "unconventional with an estranged wife and an estranged girlfriend, with whom he has two small children and is pregnant at this time." As to Stowell, the court noted that she had tested positive for methamphetamine and THC and that she had moved without informing DHS. The court further noted that Stowell's diagnostic impression included bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder, and it found that she had acted inappropriately during visitations with the children.

         The court held review hearings on August 23 and October 27. The court found that Holden had a good relationship with his children, visited them regularly and appropriately, and completed his psychological evaluation and parenting-without-violence course. The court found that the children could not be safely reunified with Stowell and authorized DHS to increase Holden's visitation with the children, including a trial home placement.

         On March 28, 2018, the court held a permanency-planning hearing. The court found that Holden had appropriate housing, income, and transportation. The court again noted his "complicated personal life" but stated that he had complied with DHS's requests regarding those issues during visitations with the children. The court noted that DHS anticipated beginning the trial home placement with Holden when the school semester ended. The court again found ...


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