FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72JV-15-480]
HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE AFFIRMED
Bowers Lee, Ark. Pub. Def. Comm'n, for appellant.
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee. Chrestman Group,
PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor
M. GLOVER, Judge.
Vega appeals from the termination of her parental rights to
five of her children. She challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence supporting the trial court's conclusion that
termination was in the children's best interest. She does
not challenge the evidence supporting the statutory grounds
for termination. We affirm.
has a total of nine children. Her three oldest children
(J.F., D.F., and T.F.) are in their father's custody and
have nothing to do with this appeal. The five children who
are involved in this case are P.T., K.T.1, K.T.2, R.T.1, and
R.T.2. The remaining child, A.T., was born during the
pendency of this case and remains with Christy.
Arkansas Department of Human Services involvement with this
family began in March 2015 based on a true finding of medical
neglect. A protection plan was subsequently created due to
P.T.'s allegation of sexual abuse by her father, Markus
Trantham. The children were to have no contact with Markus;
Christy's mother, Dorothy Vega, was enlisted to monitor
the protection plan. On June 4, 2015, the five children were
placed in an emergency hold because Dorothy notified DHS she
could no longer monitor the protection plan. There were also
allegations these five children had contact with Markus after
the protection plan had been implemented.
August 5, 2015, the five children were adjudicated
dependent-neglected based on findings of neglect, parental
unfitness, housing instability, and exposure to domestic
violence in the home. Christy's compliance with most of
the plan was noted in a December 10, 2015 review order, and
plans were set forth for unsupervised weekend visitation, to
be followed by a trial home placement to begin on January 29,
2016. On January 12 and 15, 2016, however, DHS sought, and
was subsequently granted, suspension of visitation until an
emergency hearing could be held because Christy and her
mother had an altercation with the children present, there
were reports of skin rashes and head lice following visits,
and in addition, there were allegations that P.T. had begun
to exhibit concerning sexual behaviors after visits. (Markus
was eventually arrested for rape on March 23, 2016.) The goal
of the case was eventually changed to adoption following a
May 13, 2016 permanency-planning hearing in which the trial
court concluded that neither parent had made significant
progress toward reunification and that they were not in full
compliance with the case plan or the court's orders. The
trial court further noted that Christy had failed to keep her
children safe from harm and had not demonstrated she could
13, 2016, DHS filed a petition to terminate Christy and
Markus's parental rights to the five children involved in
this appeal. The termination hearing was held on August 17,
2016, and the parental rights of both parents were terminated
by order entered August 31, 2016. Only Christy's parental
rights are involved in this appeal.
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Shawkey v. Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs., 2017
Ark.App. 2, ___ S.W.3d ____. At least one statutory ground
must exist, in addition to a finding that it is in the
children's best interest to terminate parental rights.
Id. An order terminating parental rights must be
based on clear and convincing evidence. Id.; Ark.
Code Ann. § 9-27-341 (Repl. 2015). On appeal, we examine
whether the trial court's finding that a disputed fact
was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly
erroneous. Id. A finding is clearly erroneous when,
although there is evidence to support the finding, after
reviewing all of the evidence, we are left with a definite
and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.
Campbell v. Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs., 2017
Ark.App. 82. Credibility determinations are left to the
fact-finder. Shawkey, supra. The 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
making a "best-interest" determination, the trial
court is required to consider two factors: 1) the likelihood
that the child will be adopted, and 2) the potential of harm
to the child if custody is returned to a parent. Id.
Adoptability is a factor that must be considered by the trial
court, but it is not an essential element. Id.
Similarly, the trial court must consider the potential harm
of returning a child to a parent, but it does not have to
identify a specific potential harm or have it proved by clear
and convincing evidence. Id. The trial court
conducts its potential-harm analysis in broad terms.
Id. It is the overall "best-interest"
finding that must be supported by clear and convincing
major thrust of Christy's argument under this point is
that the trial court's finding of potential harm is
undercut by the fact that DHS did not remove the infant,
A.T., from the home. She cites no legal authority for her
argument, which is also not persuasive. Eight children were
removed from the home. The three oldest children, as
previously mentioned, were placed with their father and are
not part of this appeal. The five children involved in this
appeal were removed from the home, and termination
proceedings were eventually pursued. The ninth child was born
after the case was underway. Major concerns for the trial
court included testimony that P.T. made allegations of sexual
abuse by Markus, that Christy and her mother were reluctant
to believe the allegations, and that the domestic violence
and sexual abuse in the home resulted in the
post-traumatic-stress disorder exhibited by P.T. The trial
court specifically found "that there [was] ongoing,
deep-seated familial chaos in this case and that to return
any of the children to the custody of a parent would subject
the children to undue, serious risk of harm." We are not
left with a definite and firm conviction that the trial court
was mistaken in finding there was a potential for harm if the
children were returned.