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Whitehead v. Arkansas Department of Human Services and Minor Children

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 2, 2019

LISA WHITEHEAD APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, TENTH DIVISION [NO. 60JV-17-879] HONORABLE JOYCE WILLIAMS WARREN, JUDGE.

          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Commission for Parent Counsel, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge.

         Lisa Whitehead appeals the Pulaski County Circuit Court's order terminating her parental rights to her two children. On appeal, she argues that the termination of her parental rights was not in her children's best interest. We affirm.

         At the time of the termination, one child was sixteen and the other was thirteen. On appeal, the crux of Lisa's argument is that termination was not in the children's best interest because they did not want to be adopted and wanted to remain together.

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with this family in June 2017, when the family's apartment caught fire. While being interviewed, the children disclosed that Lisa used drugs in front of them. Lisa admitted using marijuana and sherm[1] and tested positive for PCP. DHS opened a protective-services case and made referrals to provide Lisa with services. The boys went to live with a cousin, but when the cousin could no longer care for the children, DHS took a seventy-two hour hold on the juveniles.

         In August 2017, the court found that probable cause existed to continue custody with DHS, and the children were adjudicated dependent-neglected the next month. The court found the children were dependent-neglected and made specific findings that the mother lacked stable housing, refused services, and had positive drug screens for PCP and cocaine.

         The case progressed, and while Lisa had some compliance with the court's orders throughout the case, she was never in full compliance, and there was never a point in which the children could be safely placed with her. On December 7, 2018, DHS filed a petition seeking termination of Lisa's parental rights, alleging the grounds of failure to remedy, [2] subsequent factors, [3] and aggravated circumstances.[4]

         On February 27, 2019, the circuit court held a termination hearing. It heard testimony from Lisa, who testified that at the time of the hearing, she was staying with a friend, did not have a job, had used PCP three weeks before the hearing, and had not completed any of the drug-treatment classes. It next heard testimony from the caseworker, Lauren Hill. Lauren corroborated much of Lisa's testimony and further testified that if the boys were returned to Lisa they would be returned to a "very unstable, unpredictable, and unsafe home environment." She said that it was extremely important for the boys to maintain their sibling bond and that they wanted to reunify with their mother. Lauren further testified that the older boy was almost seventeen and his consent would be required for any adoption. She stated that DHS was unable to find a relative who would assume custody of the boys. A maternal aunt was willing to take the boys, but DHS was concerned about the size of her apartment and her suspended license. The aunt did resolve her license issue, but Lauren said there was a lack of movement regarding that placement because the aunt was not returning Lauren's calls.

         An adoption specialist also testified. She said that the boys are adoptable and there are ninety-two families in the database willing to adopt a sibling group such as theirs. She also testified that when a child is unwilling to consent, DHS moves forward with adoption for the other child alone. She stated that there have been situations in which children do not want to be adopted but ultimately do consent to an adoption. She believed there were no barriers to these boys being adopted.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the court granted DHS's petition to terminate Lisa's parental rights to her sons on all three grounds pleaded by DHS. An order was entered to that effect on March 25, 2019, and Lisa timely appealed. On appeal, she argues that the termination of her parental rights was not in the children's best interest.

         Termination-of-parental rights cases are reviewed de novo. Mitchell v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 715, at 1, 430 S.W.3d 851, 852. The termination-of-parental-rights analysis is twofold; it requires the circuit court to find that the parent is unfit and that termination is in the best interest of the child. Fisher v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2019 Ark.App. 39, at 4, 569 S.W.3d 886, 888. The first step requires proof of one or more of the nine enumerated statutory grounds for termination. Id. The second step, a best-interest determination, ...


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