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Beard v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 5, 2016

DIANE BEARD APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 70JV-14-146] HONORABLE EDWIN KEATON, JUDGE

          Tabitha McNulty, Ark. Pub. Defender Comm'n, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge

         Appellant Diane Beard appeals from the termination of her parental rights to her son, E.J.[1] On appeal, Diane argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the grounds for termination.

         We review termination of parental rights cases de novo. Miller v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 727, 479 S.W.3d 63. 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 (Repl. 2015); 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 factfinder a firm conviction as to the allegation sought to be established. Miller, supra. 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).

         This case began on July 3, 2014, when appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody of Diane's three children, E.J., T.J., and J.J. At the time, E.J. was two months old, and his older siblings were ten and eleven years old. Attached to the petition was an affidavit of a DHS employee stating that E.J. had been hospitalized with multiple fractures to his ribs, leg, and arm, and had an apparent burn injury to his nose. Diane told investigators that E.J. had fallen from a bed. Based on Diane's statement that T.J. was jealous of E.J. and did not like him, there were concerns that T.J. had been purposely harming E.J. The trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody of all three children on the same day DHS's petition was filed.

         On August 27, 2014, the trial court entered a probable-cause order finding probable cause that the emergency conditions necessitating removal of the children continued. On October 3, 2014, the trial court entered an order adjudicating the children dependent-neglected. The stated goal of the case was reunification, and Diane was ordered to maintain stable and suitable housing, maintain stable employment, complete parenting classes, undergo a psychological evaluation, and participate in counseling. Review orders were entered on January 13, 2015, and March 25, 2015. The review orders indicated that DHS was making reasonable efforts to provide services to achieve the goal of reunification and that Diane had complied with some of the case plan. In the permanency-planning order entered on August 4, 2015, the trial court found that DHS was making reasonable efforts and that Diane was complying with the case plan and making measurable progress, although she did not have a suitable home for the children.

         In a fifteen-month review order entered on November 30, 2015, the trial court changed the case goal concerning E.J. to termination of parental rights and adoption. The trial court found that Diane had complied with the case plan in some capacity but did not have suitable housing, nor did the court have a sense of when Diane might have a suitable home for the children. Although the older children, T.J. and J.J., could not be returned home at that time, the trial court found that termination of parental rights was not in their best interest. The permanency plan for T.J. and J.J. was relative placement.

         On December 30, 2015, DHS filed a petition to terminate Diane's parental rights as to E.J. only. The termination hearing was held on February 1, 2016, and on March 4, 2016, the trial court entered an order terminating Diane's parental rights to E.J.

         In the termination order, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of parental rights was in E.J.'s best interest, and the court specifically considered the likelihood that E.J. would be adopted, as well as the potential harm of returning him to the custody of his mother as required by Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A)(i)&(ii). The trial court also found clear and convincing evidence of two statutory grounds. The trial court found, pursuant to subsection (b)(3)(B)(i)(a), that E.J. had been adjudicated to be dependent-neglected and had continued to be out of the custody of the parent for twelve months and, despite a meaningful effort by the department to rehabilitate the parent and correct the conditions that caused removal, those conditions had not been remedied by the parent. Pursuant to subsection (b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(3)(A)(i), the trial court found that Diane had subjected E.J. to aggravated circumstances, meaning that a determination had been made that there was little likelihood that services to the family would result in the successful reunification. The trial court specifically found:

The Department showed that E.J. was removed from the custody of Diane Beard on July 1, 2014 and has remained in an out-of-home placement since that date. E.J. and his siblings were adjudicated dependent/neglected on August 4, 2014, finding that E.J. was in the care and custody of Diane Beard and she failed to protect E.J. from abuse which resulted in multiple broken bones and an infected area on his nose. Diane Beard has not obtained a suitable home for her children. The Court has concerns with the ability of Diane Beard to understand what E.J.'s special needs [are] and address those needs. Due to her low functioning, Diane Beard does not have the ability to protect E.J. The following services have been offered to Diane Beard to meet the goal of reunification: assistance with DHS, counseling, individual parenting classes, supervised visitation, transportation, worker contacts and casework management. . . . The Court finds that E.J. received occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy resulting from the injuries caused by his sister which gave rise to this case. E.J. has PTSD and needs special attention that Diane Beard cannot provide. E.J. would be at risk of potential harm if returned to Diane Beard.

         Eugenia Ford, a DHS caseworker assigned to the case, testified at the termination hearing. Ms. Ford testified that E.J. was removed from Diane's custody due to the child's injuries and Diane's failure to protect him. According to Ms. Ford, Diane was living in her sister's house, and there had been no improvement in her living situation. Ms. Ford stated that Diane received a little over $700 per month from SSI but had saved no money toward finding her own residence. Ms. Ford indicated that Diane was lacking in her parenting abilities as far as understanding E.J.'s injuries and disabilities, or how to address them, and that Diane had limited ability to even care for herself. Ms. Ford noted that upon testing Diane's IQ was only 59, which falls within the extremely low range of intellectual functioning. Diane had also been diagnosed with depressive and psychotic disorder. Ms. Ford stated that extensive DHS services had been offered throughout the case, but that Diane did not have the ability to keep this special-needs child safe, and that ...


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