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Chastain v. Arkansas Department of Human Services and Minor Child

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 30, 2019

RACHEL CHASTAIN APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE HO T SPRING COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 30JV-16-158] HONORABLE EDDY EASLEY, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Commission for Parent Counsel, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, Judge

         Rachel Chastain appeals the order entered by the Hot Spring County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her daughter MC (born January 5, 2010). Rachel argues that the circuit court clearly erred in finding grounds to support termination and that termination was in MC's best interest. We affirm.

         On November 21, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect after removing MC from the custody of her father Cole Cragg.[1] MC had been living with her father, his wife Lesley Cragg, and MC's half sister AC.[2] An affidavit attached to the petition stated that the Cragg home was under construction and unsuitable to live in, a sex offender was living in the home, Lesley tested positive for methamphetamine, and Cole refused drug testing. An ex parte order for emergency custody of MC was entered November 21.

         On February 2, 2017, an adjudication order was entered finding MC dependent-neglected due to neglect and parental unfitness based on Cole's stipulation. The court noted that Rachel, as the noncustodial parent, did not contribute to the dependency-neglect of MC but that her whereabouts were unknown and that she was not a fit parent for purposes of custody.

         Rachel's first attendance in the dependency-neglect proceeding is reflected in the circuit court's November 15, 2017 permanency-planning order. In that order, the court authorized a plan of adoption with DHS filing a petition for termination of Cole's parental rights to MC. While the court also found that the concurrent goal of permanent custody with Rachel was appropriate, it further found that Rachel, who had been living in Washington, had recently moved to Arizona; did not advise DHS of her new address and phone number; had little contact with MC over the last several years; and had not completed a home study. The circuit court appointed Rachel counsel and ordered her to come to Arkansas to visit MC.

         On December 29, 2017, the circuit court entered an order terminating Cole's parental rights to MC and AC and Lesley's parental rights to AC. In this order, the circuit court ordered DHS to continue reunification services for Rachel, who attended the termination hearing. The court also ordered Rachel to contact her local state representative and senator to request that the home study be expedited by child services in Arizona.

         On March 6, 2018, the court held a review hearing with Rachel. In the review order, the circuit court found that Rachel had partially complied with the case plan but had little contact with MC and had not participated in family counseling. The court noted the continued need for the completion of the home study. The court continued the goal of reunification but authorized DHS to file a petition for termination of Rachel's parental rights. A termination hearing was set for May 22, 2018.

         On March 29, DHS filed a petition for termination of Rachel's parental rights to MC. DHS alleged that four grounds supported termination: (1) failure to remedy the issues that prevent reunification, Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(b) (Supp. 2017); (2) failure to maintain meaningful contact or provide material support, section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ii)(a); (3) subsequent factors, section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vii)(a); and (4) aggravated circumstances, section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(3)(A), (B)(i). DHS also alleged that termination was in the best interest of MC.

         On May 22, rather than a termination hearing, the circuit court held another review hearing. In the review order, the court again found that Rachel, who attended the hearing, had partially complied with the case plan but had little contact with MC and had not participated in family counseling. The court noted the continued need for the completion of the home study.

         The termination hearing was held on December 4, 2018. Sandra Hinton testified that there are 307 potential adoptive matches for MC and AC as a sibling group, that her success rate with adopting sibling groups similar to MC's and AC's ages is very good, and ...


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