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Arkansas judges overturn neglect case involving mother whose 3-year-old drowned in washing machine

A south Arkansas mother whose 3-year-old drowned in a washing machine should not have had to surrender her newborn to the state months after an accident based on her "mindset," the Arkansas Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge appellate panel overturned a ruling of neglect by a Calhoun County circuit judge. It's unclear whether the infant -- now more than a year old -- has been returned to her mother. The state Department of Human Services declined to comment on the status of any of the children of Brooke Haney. Her attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

After the toddler died in October 2015, Haney was charged with endangering the welfare of a minor, according to court records. Haney pleaded guilty and received probation. The Division of Children and Family Services took custody of her other two children, according to court records.

The next summer, pregnant with a fourth child, Haney told the state she planned to give birth later that year in Louisiana, closer to her family.

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A Calhoun County circuit judge ruled in July 2016 that Haney had to surrender her yet-to-be-born child to the Arkansas Department of Human Services as soon as she was discharged from the hospital and returned to Arkansas.

Haney's child was born Aug. 25, 2016, and, according to court records, she told doctors at the hospital in Livingston Parish, La., as well as that state's child-services agency the number of her caseworker in Arkansas.

A few days after her child's birth on a Sunday, Haney also tried to call her Arkansas caseworker, but was unable to reach her, the record states.

The next week, Louisiana turned the newborn child over to the custody of Arkansas child services, and the week after that, the court in Calhoun County entered an emergency order to keep the baby in state custody.

On appeal, the lower court found the newborn dependent-neglected and at risk of serious harm, pointing to the delay in child services being notified of Haney giving birth and the lack of "a change in the mindset of the parents since last October, when these children's sibling died."

The unanimous opinion handed down Wednesday by Appeals Judge Raymond Abramson found no weight in that argument.

Abramson wrote that the state provided no further evidence to show Haney and the child's father, Wayne Norred, could not care for their infant. The appellate judge said Haney had not denied her responsibility in the death of her older child.

A court affidavit attached to Haney's 2016 child endangerment charges states she was pulled over the year before for driving under the influence of prescription pills, with a baby in the backseat. Haney was found to be taking benzodiazepine before she fell asleep the day her 3-year-old toddler crawled into the washing machine.

According to Abramson's opinion, Haney described the death as an "accident." She and the father have since completed drug and alcohol screenings, counseling and parenting classes, the judge wrote.

"'Mindset' alone in not a basis for adjudication," Abramson wrote. "There was no testimony to explain how [the infant] would be in the same situation as [the drowned sibling]."

Metro on 09/14/2017

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