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Atwood v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

October 16, 2019

JESSICA ATWOOD AND VINCENT PEAL APPELLANTS
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, ELEVENTH DIVISION [NO. 60JV-18-8] HONORABLE PATRICIA JAMES, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant Jessica Atwood.

          Lightle, Raney, Streit & Streit, LLP, by: Jonathan R. Streit, for appellant Vincent Peal.

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

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

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE

         Jessica Atwood and Vincent Peal appeal the Pulaski County Circuit Court order terminating their parental rights to their child, S.A. (10/30/17). On appeal, they both argue that the circuit court erred by finding it was in the best interest of the child to terminate their parental rights because the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to provide sufficient evidence of adoptability. Peal additionally argues that the circuit court erred by terminating his parental rights because DHS did not offer him any meaningful services. We affirm.

         On January 4, 2018, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect of S.A. The petition listed Atwood as the mother and Peal as the putative father, and it stated that Peal was incarcerated at the Jefferson County Detention Center. In the affidavit attached to the petition, DHS alleged that Atwood had been arrested for first-degree terroristic threatening and endangering the welfare of a minor. On the same day the petition was filed, the court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody. On January 10, the court found probable cause for the emergency custody.

         On February 15, the court held an adjudication hearing. Both Atwood and Peal were present. The court adjudicated S.A. dependent-neglected based on Atwood's unfitness in that she was "behaving erratically resulting in her arrest, and subsequently [she] has housing instability." The court advised Peal to contact DHS upon his release from jail in order to obtain a DNA test and establish paternity.

         The court held a review hearing on June 20. Atwood and Peal did not appear for the hearing. The court found that Atwood "has done nothing" and that based on a DNA test, Peal is the father of the child. The court noted that S.A.'s foster mother testified that she is bonded to the child and that she is interested in being a permanent placement for her.

         On December 12, the court held a permanency-planning hearing. Atwood appeared at the hearing, but Peal did not. The court noted that Peal had gone to the DHS office in Jefferson County and had been informed of the date and time of the hearing but that DHS had no other contact with him. The court noted that Atwood was in jail in Pulaski County. The court found that both Atwood and Peal "have done nothing" and that no progress had been made by either parent.

         On January 28, 2019, DHS filed a petition for termination of Atwood's and Peal's parental rights. DHS alleged the abandonment, [1] aggravated-circumstances, [2]and subsequent- factors[3] grounds against both Atwood and Peal. DHS also alleged the failure-to-remedy ground[4] as it applies to custodial parents against Atwood and the failure-to-remedy ground[5] as it applies to noncustodial parents against Peal.

         The case proceeded to a termination hearing on March 6, 2019. Peal did not appear for the hearing. Angela Brown testified that she is an adoption specialist and that she ran a data matching list in this case. She stated that there "a possible 428 resources that meet the characteristics of the minor child" and that the particular characteristics used in this case were "race, age, medical, parental condition."

         Atwood testified that she was incarcerated in Pulaski County serving a four-year sentence for a probation revocation. She stated that she had not completed parenting classes, a drug-and-alcohol assessment, or a psychological evaluation. ...


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