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Easter v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 2, 2019

AMANDA EASTER APPELANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE CONWAY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 15JV-17-50] HONORABLE TERRY SULLIVAN, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

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

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

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge.

         Appellant Amanda Easter appeals from the February 4, 2019 order of the Conway County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her children. Easter challenges the circuit court's findings on statutory grounds for termination and best interest. We find no error and affirm.

         I. Procedural Facts and History

         Easter is the mother of KY (born 7/26/2016) and twins HE and NE (born 9/05/2012). HE and NE's legal father, Russell Easter, filed a consent to termination. KY's father is not a party to this appeal. This is not the first contact the Arkansas Department of Human Services (Department) has had with this family. In 2014, the twins spent six months in foster care due to environmental neglect and inadequate supervision resulting from Easter's use of methamphetamine.

         On June 5, 2017, the Department exercised an emergency hold on the children and filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect two days later. The Department initiated an investigation into the welfare of the children after receiving information from a caller to its hotline that the children were being left alone while Easter "runs around the trailer park high on methamphetamine" and that two of the children had feeding tubes and were not being fed properly. The social worker who responded to the call determined that the children could not safely remain in the home because Easter tested positive for methamphetamine and appeared to be under the influence. The circuit court entered an ex parte order of emergency custody on June 7. On June 9, the circuit court held a probable-cause hearing, and it found that probable cause existed for the children to remain in the Department's custody.

         At the adjudication hearing conducted on July 27, the court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected after Easter stipulated that the children had not been adequately supervised due to her drug use. The circuit court established a goal of reunification. Easter was ordered to comply with the standard welfare orders of the Department that, among other things, ordered her to submit to random drug screens, attend and complete parenting classes, obtain and maintain stable and appropriate housing and gainful employment, attend counseling, and submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment.

         At a review hearing on October 26, the court found that Easter had complied with the case plan but noted that she had not been able to maintain steady housing and employment. The goal of the case continued to be reunification.

         At a February 1, 2018 review hearing, the court found that Easter had "substantially complied" with the case plan and the court's orders. The court noted specifically that she had submitted to a psychological evaluation as well as a drug-and-alcohol assessment but that she had elected to wait for inpatient treatment because the facility had a policy that prohibited romantic partners from being in the program simultaneously. Easter's boyfriend at the time, John Yard, was in the program but had recently left it prematurely. The order stated that they are no longer a couple. Also, Easter still did not have stable employment or housing. The goal of the case continued to be reunification.

         At a permanency-planning hearing held on May 24, the goal of the case continued to be reunification, and the court found that Easter was substantially complying with the case plan. Specifically, the court found that Easter was compliant with her counseling, so it gave her an additional three months to work toward reunification.

         At the fifteen-month review hearing, the circuit court changed the goal of the case to adoption with termination of parental rights. The circuit court found that Easter had only partially complied with the case plan and that she was employed but still did not have a suitable home for the children. The court specifically found she had lived in ...


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