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Huddleston v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

January 15, 2020



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

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

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


         Ladonna Huddleston appeals the order entered by the Washington County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to AH (born August 9, 2015) and ID (born September 29, 2010). On appeal, Huddleston argues that the circuit court clearly erred in finding grounds supported the termination decision and erred in finding that termination was in the best interest of AH and ID. We affirm.

         On September 8, 2017, ID disclosed to law enforcement that Huddleston's boyfriend, Will Hadley, had sexually abused her. Huddleston told representatives of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) that she was unaware of the abuse and that she would protect her children. On September 11, during a follow-up check, it was discovered that ID had a red mark on her face. ID reported that Huddleston had struck her as punishment for reporting the abuse. ID further reported that Hadley had been in Huddleston's home that morning. DHS removed ID, AH, and JD[1] from Huddleston's custody and placed them in foster care. On September 13, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect of all three children, and the circuit court entered an order granting the petition that day. On October 25, the circuit court ordered DHS to place JD in inpatient residential treatment after finding that he had been running away from school and had disrupted two foster-care placements.

         After an adjudication hearing, the court entered an order on November 2, finding that the children were dependent-neglected and at substantial risk of serious harm as a result of abuse, sexual abuse, and parental unfitness. The court ordered Huddleston to, among other things, cooperate with DHS, participate in individual counseling, refrain from illegal drug use, submit to random drug screens, obtain and maintain stable housing and employment, demonstrate the ability to protect her children, follow the case plan and court orders, and "not let people stay at her home-Mother needs to show that she can make GOOD choices about what people she has around her and her kids!!" The goal of the case was reunification.

         On February 21, 2018, the circuit court held a review hearing wherein it found Huddleston had maintained contact with DHS, participated in counseling, submitted to drug screens, tested negative for illegal substances, secured housing and (disability) income, and was in parenting classes. The court ordered Huddleston to continue to comply with the case plan and "keep other people out of the home!!" The court found that Huddleston "is continuing to develop her parenting skills and is working, but not yet shown, she will adequately protect the juveniles from harm."

         On March 8, the circuit court entered a review order that discharged JD from his treatment facility and ordered a trial home placement with Huddleston to begin on March 9. The order provided that "[n]o one other than the Mother and [JD] shall spend the night in the home!"

         After an emergency hearing on April 11, the circuit court entered an order ending JD's trial home placement. The court's order described a "meltdown" JD had in court along with multiple behavioral issues he had at school.[2] The order also set forth Huddleston's testimony at the emergency hearing that she allowed a man named Christian in her home during the trial placement. The court found that JD was a danger to himself and others and ordered that he be placed in an acute treatment facility.

         In a July 26 review order, the circuit court found Huddleston in partial compliance with the case plan and court orders; however, the court also found that she failed to demonstrate the ability to keep her children safe and that she failed to complete parenting classes and counseling. The circuit court also found that it was in the best interest of AH and ID to be placed separately from JD due to his severe mental-health issues. The court continued the goal of reunification.

         After permanency-planning hearings on September 5 and October 4, the court found that Huddleston had partially complied with the case plan but had not demonstrated an ability to protect the children and keep them safe from harm. The court found that JD's trial home placement had ended because Huddleston failed to keep men out of her home, which was the cause of removal. The court again found that it was not in AH and ID's best interest to be placed with JD. The court changed the goal to adoption for all three children.

         On December 3, the circuit court entered an agreed order wherein it found that ID had disrupted the placement with her foster family. The court authorized DHS ...

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