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Meredith v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

March 1, 2017



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge.

         Terry Meredith appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, J.M.[1] She argues that the termination was not in her child's best interest. We affirm the circuit court's decision.


         In April 2015, the Van Buren County Circuit Court adjudicated J.M. dependent neglected by the parties' stipulation. Five-month-old J.M. remained in foster care, and the case goal remained reunification with Terry. The circuit court held a permanency-planning hearing in February 2016 and found that the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) had offered reunification services throughout the case. Those services included: foster home, board payments, relative home study, home visits, supervised visitation, transportation, referral for counseling, drug-and-alcohol assessment, drug treatment, psychological evaluation, housing assistance, NA/AA referral, parenting classes, paternity testing, case management, medical services, dental services, and foster home visits. The court changed the case-plan goal to adoption after finding that Terry was speaking "very quickly and incoherently" when she testified during the permanency-planning hearing, and a drug test given at court that day was positive for amphetamines, methamphetamine, and MDMA. Terry had failed to comply with the court's previous orders to attend inpatient drug rehabilitation, to maintain contact with DHS, and to complete parenting classes. Terry also attended only nine visits with J.M. in the eleven months that the case had been opened. In March 2016 DHS filed a petition to terminate Terry's parental rights.

         The court held a hearing on the petition in June 2016, during which DHS introduced the prior orders entered in the case, two case plans, and Terry's drug screens. The evidence showed that, while Terry had some periods of sobriety, there were many periods where she was not. Terry testified that part of the delay in entering and completing drug rehabilitation was finding an appropriate facility that could treat both the substance abuse and her mental health. Following the permanency-planning hearing, Terry completed a drug-rehabilitation program and had achieved over sixty days of sobriety when the termination hearing was held. She also began consistently visiting J.M. after her release from the inpatient program. Terry started working at Taco Bell about three weeks before the termination hearing, received Social-Security disability benefits, had a home, and had a fiancé who assisted her with bills.

         Caseworker Jennifer Carroll testified that Terry had been arrested and charged with drug-related offenses and had tested positive for methamphetamine throughout the case. In Carroll's opinion, there was little likelihood that giving Terry three more months would result in a successful reunification with J.M. She testified that Terry had not maintained stable or appropriate housing and that Terry had not demonstrated an improved ability to parent or keep J.M. safe. Carroll said that J.M.'s foster parents would like to adopt him, that J.M. does not have any physical or mental deficiencies preventing him from being adopted, and that he was in an appropriate placement.

         J.M.'s foster parent testified that J.M. was "absolutely" part of the family and that he was "committed" to adopting him.

         The circuit court terminated Terry's parental rights to J.M. in August 2016. Terry has appealed that order.


         We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Cheney v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2012 Ark.App. 209, 396 S.W.3d 272. But we will not reverse the circuit court's ruling unless its findings are clearly erroneous. Id. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. In determining whether a finding is clearly ...

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