APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, TENTH DIVISION. NO. JN2014-237. HONORABLE JOYCE WILLIAMS WARREN, JUDGE.
Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.
Tabitha B. McNulty, County Legal Operations, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor child.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge. VAUGHT and HIXSON, JJ., agree.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge
Appellant Angela Metcalf appeals from a decision of the Pulaski County Circuit Court awarding custody of Metcalf's daughter, A.P., to A.P.'s father, Jonathan Phillips, and closing the dependency-neglect case. She argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the court's order granting permanent custody to Phillips. We find no error and affirm.
I. Standard of Review
In juvenile proceedings, the standard of review on appeal is de novo, although we do not reverse unless the circuit court's findings are clearly erroneous. Thomas v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2012 Ark.App. 309, 419 S.W.3d 734. 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 committed. Stewart v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2011 Ark.App. 577. We give due deference to the superior position of the circuit court to view and judge the credibility of the witnesses. Thomas, supra. This deference is even greater in cases involving child custody, as a heavier burden is placed on the judge to utilize to the fullest extent of his or her powers of perception in evaluating the witnesses, their testimony, and the best interest of the children. Id. With these standards in mind, we now turn to the evidence before the court and consider Metcalf's arguments challenging the sufficiency of this evidence.
II. The Evidence
The case began when the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody and dependency-neglect following Metcalf's arrest on drug charges. At the time of her arrest, Metcalf and A.P. were passengers in a vehicle that was being driven by a registered sex offender; methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia were also found in the car. When a DHS caseworker made contact with Metcalf at the Sherwood Police Department, Metcalf tested positive for methamphetamine. She was charged with endangering the welfare of a minor, possession of methamphetamine with purpose to deliver, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Because A.P. was left without a legal caretaker following Metcalf's arrest, DHS took custody of A.P. on the basis of neglect and parental unfitness. Based upon this evidence, the court found probable cause and later adjudicated A.P. dependent-neglected, specifically finding that she was at substantial risk of serious harm as a result of neglect and parental unfitness. Despite this finding, the court set the goal of the case to be reunification and set the case for subsequent evidentiary review hearings.
At the review hearings, the court received evidence pertaining to Jonathan Phillips, who had submitted to DNA testing. Based upon the results, the court determined Phillips to be the biological father of A.P. Following that determination, the court placed A.P. in Phillips's temporary legal custody based upon a recommendation from DHS that Phillips was able to provide " stability and structure" for A.P. Additional evidence showed that A.P. had started ...