APPEAL FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. JV-13-702] HONORABLE VICKI SHAW COOK, JUDGE
Travis Ragland, for appellant.
Tabitha Baertels McNulty, Office of Policy and Legal Services, for appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, for appellees K.W., J.L.1, J.L.2, K.L., and A.W.
KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge
Appellant Tawana Willingham appeals from the termination of her parental rights to her five children, who range in age from four to eleven years old. On appeal, Tawana argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the termination order. We affirm.
We review termination of parental rights cases de novo. Mitchell v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 715, 430 S.W.3d 851. At least one statutory ground must exist, in addition to a finding that it is in the child's best interest to terminate parental rights; these must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341 (Supp. 2013); M.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 58 Ark.App. 302, 952 S.W.2d 177 (1997). Clear and convincing evidence is that degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction as to the allegation sought to be established. Anderson v. Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). The appellate inquiry is whether the trial court's finding that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly erroneous. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). 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. Yarborough v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 96 Ark.App. 247, 240 S.W.3d 626 (2006).
Prior to initiation of these termination proceedings, Tawana had a history with appellee Department of Human Services. A dependency-neglect case was opened on January 17, 2012, at which time the children were removed from Tawana's custody. The children remained in foster care until May 31, 2012, when they were returned to Tawana while she was living in a domestic-abuse shelter. Tawana left the shelter on June 7, 2012, leaving her children behind. Tawana was found to have abandoned her children, and the children returned to foster care where they remained until February 7, 2013. The children were then returned to Tawana, and that dependency-neglect case was closed on June 5, 2013.
The children were most recently removed on October 28, 2013, when DHS took an emergency hold of the children as a result of drug abuse and domestic violence in the home. In its petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect, DHS alleged that there had been a report that Tawana and the children's father, Christopher Lemmer, were using illegal drugs in the presence of the children. It was also reported that Tawana and Christopher were having violent physical fights while the children were present. Upon investigation, the children disclosed that both parents were physically aggressive toward each other, and that their father had thrown knives at Tawana. The children also disclosed that there was very little food in the home. The children's maternal grandparents were interviewed, and they said that they had seen physical fights between Christopher and Tawana in front of the children, and also that they had witnessed Christopher and Tawana intoxicated on drugs. Both parents were given drug screens, and both Christopher and Tawana tested positive for methamphetamine and THC. Tawana also tested positive for methadone and amphetamines. Based on these circumstances, the trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency DHS custody on November 4, 2013.
DHS filed a motion to terminate reunification services on December 16, 2013, and a hearing on the motion was held on January 22, 2014. On February 3, 2014, the trial court entered an order terminating reunification services, noting that the children had been removed from the home and placed in foster care for a third time. In that order, the trial court found:
During the last dependent-neglect case that was open for seventeen months, the Department offered foster care, therapeutic foster care, visitation, medical/dental care, transportation, parenting classes, counseling, random drug/alcohol testing, psychological evaluations, anger management instruction, domestic violence education, and case management. There are no further or other services the Department can offer the parents to achieve successful and permanent reunification that have not already been offered. The parents have reverted to their old patterns of behavior by engaging in domestic violence again in front of the juveniles, both have tested positive for illegal substances, and the juveniles continue to suffer from environmental, educational, and medical neglect. Based on the history of the parents, it is highly unlikely that any services to the family will result in successful reunification. . . . Specifically, based on the facts as set forth above, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that there is little likelihood that services to the family will result in successful reunification and, as such, the parents have subjected the juveniles to aggravated circumstances.
Also on February 3, 2014, the trial court entered an adjudication order finding by clear and convincing evidence that the parents had subjected the children to aggravated circumstances in that there was little likelihood that services to the family would result in successful reunification.
DHS filed a petition to terminate parental rights on February 5, 2014. The termination hearing was held on March 20, 2014.
On April 2, 2014, the trial court entered an order terminating Tawana's parental rights. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of parental rights was in the children's best interest, and the court specifically considered the likelihood that the children would be adopted, as well as the potential harm of returning them to the custody of their parents as required by Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(A)(i) & (ii) (Supp. 2013). The trial court also found clear and convincing evidence of one statutory ground. Specifically, pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(3)(A)(i) (Supp. 2013), the court found that a determination had been made by a judge that Tawana had subjected the children to aggravated ...