FROM THE FRANKLIN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT
[NO. 24JV-15-4] HONORABLE KEN D. COKER, JR., JUDGE
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
Harrison and Whiteaker, JJ., agree.
MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge
Shannon Taylor appeals the June 27, 2016 order of the
Franklin County Circuit Court that terminated her parental
rights to her daughter CT (born in January 1999) and her son
AT (born in October 2005). Appellant argues on appeal that the
trial court's finding, that it was in her children's
best interest to terminate her parental rights, is not
supported by clear and convincing evidence. Thus, appellant
argues, the trial court's termination order must be
reversed. We hold that the trial court did not clearly err,
and we affirm.
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 (Repl. 2015); Dunn v. Ark. Dep't
of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 34, 480 S.W.3d 186. 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).
Credibility determinations are left to the fact-finder.
Henson v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014
Ark.App. 225, 434 S.W.3d 371. The best-interest finding must
be based on a consideration of two factors: (1) the
likelihood that, if parental rights are terminated, the
juvenile will be adopted and (2) the potential harm caused by
returning the child to the custody of the parent. Ark. Code
Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A). Adoptability is not an
essential element but is rather a factor that the trial court
must consider. Singleton v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 455, 468 S.W.3d 809. A trial court
is not required to find that actual harm would result or to
affirmatively identify a potential harm. McFarland v.
Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 91 Ark.App. 323, 210
S.W.3d 143 (2005). Potential harm must be viewed in a
forward-looking manner and in broad terms, including the harm
the child suffers from the lack of stability of a permanent
home. Vail v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016
Ark.App. 150, 486 S.W.3d 229; Caldwell v. Ark. Dep't
of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 144, 484 S.W.3d 719. It
is the "best interest" finding that must be
supported by clear and convincing evidence after
consideration of the foregoing factors. Id.
intent behind the termination-of-parental-rights statute is
to provide permanency in a child's life when it is not
possible to return the child to the family home because it is
contrary to the child's health, safety, or welfare, and a
return to the family home cannot be accomplished in a
reasonable period of time as viewed from the child's
perspective. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(3). Even a
parent's full compliance with the case plan is not
determinative; the issue is whether the parent has become a
stable, safe parent able to care for his or her child.
Ford v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014
Ark.App. 226, at 3, 434 S.W.3d 378, 381. Finally, a
parent's past behavior is often a good indicator of
future behavior. Singleton, supra;
Stephens v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013
Ark.App. 249, 427 S.W.3d 160.
these parameters of law, we examine the evidence presented to
the trial court in this case. The Arkansas Department of
Human Services (DHS) exercised an emergency hold on
appellant's children, CT and AT, in January 2015,
following allegations that appellant's husband, Harold
Taylor, sexually abused CT and that the children's older
brother, Austin Taylor, was abusive toward AT. Subsequent to the
entry of an ex parte order for emergency custody, the trial
court found that probable cause supported the removal of CT
and AT from appellant's custody. In March 2015, the trial
court entered an order adjudicating these children
dependent-neglected based on the sexual abuse inflicted by
appellant's husband and appellant's failure to
protect the children.
the remainder of 2015, there were multiple review hearings
conducted that indicated appellant's intermittent
compliance and noncompliance with the case plan. The primary
issues with regard to appellant were her failure to protect
her children, her consistent defense of her husband and
disbelief that he had caused the children any harm, her lack
of stable housing or employment, and her failure to complete
individual counseling or to progress to family counseling.
permanency-planning hearing was conducted in January 2016,
and it was determined that appellant had regressed. She had
no housing of her own, no job, and no transportation of her
own; she failed to appear after two counseling referrals had
been made; she had not taken any action to finalize the
divorce proceedings that had been initiated in January 2015;
she was "conflicted" and "on the fence"
about whether the sexual-abuse allegations were true; she had
told a potential witness in her husband's criminal case
that the witness did not need to appear in court; she still
felt that her husband was a good spouse, provider, and father
to the children; and she had permitted AT to see his older
brother Austin around New Year's Day although there was a
no-contact order in place. Harold Taylor had by this time
pleaded guilty to sexually abusing CT and was in
prison. The trial court found appellant to have
not made any significant, measurable progress after a year
had passed, that she had chosen her husband over her
children, and that she had not demonstrated that she would
protect CT and AT from harm. The trial court noted her lack
of stable housing, employment, and transportation throughout
this case. The trial court changed the goal of the case to
adoption, authorizing DHS to file a petition to terminate
filed its petition in March 2016, alleging as statutory
grounds that the children had been out of their mother's
custody for a year and that she had not remedied the causes
of removal; that subsequent issues or factors had arisen
since the case had begun demonstrating that the children
could not be placed with their mother; and that appellant had
subjected her children to aggravated circumstances in that
there was little likelihood that the provision of additional
services would result in a ...