FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72JV-19-62]
HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE
Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Commission for Parent Counsel, for
K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
MEREDITH B. SWITZER, JUDGE
Cramer appeals from the March 7 and April 18, 2019 orders
adjudicating her three children, BA, CA, and MC,
dependent-neglected. As her sole point of appeal, she
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the
adjudication. We affirm.
hearings are held to determine whether the allegations in a
petition are substantiated by the proof. Araujo v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2019 Ark.App. 181, 574 S.W.3d
683. In reviewing a dependency-neglect adjudication, we defer
to the circuit court's superior position to observe the
parties and judge the credibility of the witnesses.
Id. We will not reverse the circuit court's
findings unless they are clearly erroneous. Id. A
finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence
to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is
left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been made. Id.
dependent-neglected juvenile includes any juvenile who is at
substantial risk of serious harm as a result of neglect or
parental unfitness. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-303(18)(A)
(Supp. 2017). The definition of neglect includes the failure
to take reasonable action to protect the juvenile from abuse,
neglect, or parental unfitness when the existence of this
condition was known or should have been known. Ark. Code Ann.
§ 9-27-303(36)(A)(iii). An adjudication of
dependency-neglect is an adjudication as to the juvenile, not
the parent, and occurs without reference to which parent
committed the acts or omissions leading to the adjudication;
the juvenile is simply dependent-neglected. Araujo,
January 11, 2019, Tiffany left BA, CA, and JA at her
mother's house so that her mother, Joanne Hostetter, and
her sister, Melissa Cramer, could babysit them. Joanne shared
the house with Melissa, and Joanne's boyfriend, Carroll
Tilton, also lived there. In addition, Joanne had
guardianship over Tiffany's other child, MC, as well as
two other children, MD and HK. The Washington County
Sheriff's Department responded to a call that night
because Joanne and Melissa had left the minor children, MD,
BA, CA, and JA, alone at the house. In addition to inadequate
supervision, the resulting investigation found the home was
not suitable for children because of unsecured prescription
bottles within the children's reach and unsanitary
conditions. It was eventually determined that BA, CA, and JA
were Tiffany's children and that they resided in her
house, not Joanne's. Consequently, Tiffany's house
was also inspected. It was found to be appropriate. BA, CA,
and JA were returned to Tiffany, but she was instructed not
to allow Joanne and Melissa to supervise them. MC,
Tiffany's other biological child, was not released to
Tiffany because Joanne was still her legal guardian.
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) continued its
hold on MC, MD, and HK and developed a written protection
plan for the children. The plan required Joanne and Melissa
to lock the medications in a safe, to correct the sanitary
problems in the house, and to develop a caregiver plan for
the children when they were at work. DHS returned to the home
on January 14, 2019, to inspect the health and safety
conditions; they found compliance and returned MD, HK, and MC
to the home.
January 23, 2019, JA was found unresponsive while at
Joanne's house. She was transported to the local hospital
where she tested positive for high levels of oxycodone. She
was then taken to Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH)
where she was given a fatal prognosis. DHS was notified of
these events on January 24. The resulting inspection of
Joanne's house revealed many prescription pill bottles in
Joanne's bedroom, which is where JA had been found
unresponsive. Joanne shared the bedroom with her boyfriend,
Tilton. A second seventy-two-hour hold was placed on all the
children, but JA died the next day-January 25. A petition for
emergency custody and dependency-neglect with respect to BA,
CA, and MC was filed on January 28 and granted the next day.
The probable-cause order was filed on February 1, 2019, and
the trial court specifically found that Tiffany had returned
her children to Joanne's house after DHS instructed her
not to do so; that the poor parenting choice placed her
children in a harmful situation and ultimately resulted in
JA's death; that even though she did not own or reside in
the home and was not present when JA became unresponsive, it
was still her obligation to protect her children; that she
tested positive for benzos and THC on January 11; and that
DHS never should have returned the children to her or Joanne.
adjudication hearing was held on April 10, 2019. The court
heard testimony from the treating pediatrician at ACH. She
explained that JA's urine screen from the first hospital
was positive for high levels of oxycodone and that her
hair-follicle test from ACH was positive for THC. The
pediatrician opined that the only explanation for JA's
sudden death was the high level of oxycodone, which was 200
times the recommended therapeutic amount for an adult and
caused JA to stop breathing and her heart to stop beating.
Tiffany and Joanne denied the presence of oxycodone in
family-service worker (FSW) testified that she told Tiffany
that Joanne and Melissa were not appropriate caretakers for
her children when they were released back to Tiffany
following the January 11 incident. The FSW visited
Joanne's house after JA had been found unresponsive. She
found prescription pill bottles "all over"
Joanne's bedroom-on the shelves, night stands,
drawers-and that was the room where JA had been found.
FSW's supervisor testified she also specifically told
Tiffany that Melissa and Joanne could no longer babysit her
children because they were both seeing a pain-management
doctor, and an alarming amount of prescription medications
were left within the children's reach throughout the
house. Tiffany identified other individuals who could babysit