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Beck v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 20, 2017



          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth and Mary Goff, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

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

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Crystal Beck appeals a Garland County Circuit Court order terminating her parental rights to her daughters, SB and OB. More specifically, she challenges both the trial court's findings of statutory grounds and its best-interest determination. We affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         On July 7, 2015, Beck took SB and OB to a child-advocacy center, reporting allegations of sexual abuse. The Arkansas Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) was contacted to conduct a criminal investigation, and the Arkansas Department of Human Services (Department or DHS) was contacted to perform a safety assessment. DHS had concerns about Beck's ability to care for and protect the children. She had driven the children to the center and was exhibiting bizarre and agitated behavior, causing DHS to suspect the influence of drugs. Beck tested positive for THC, opiates, benzodiazapines, methamphetamine, and amphetamine. The family service worker also had concerns about the children's home environment. The children were then removed from her custody by the Department.

         On September 9, 2015, the court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected. The court noted specifically that Beck had tested positive for several illegal substances and that she had driven a vehicle with the children while under the influence of those illegal substances, thereby placing them at a risk of harm. Thus, the court based its adjudication on both neglect and parental unfitness. The trial court set the goal of the case as reunification, ordered DHS to provide services to Beck, and directed Beck to comply with the orders of the court.

         After adjudication, the court conducted two review hearings. At both hearings, the court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide services necessary to achieve reunification. The court also found that Beck had only partially complied with the case plan and had made some progress in mitigating the causes of the out-of-home placement.[1]Specifically, the court noted that Beck was either unemployed or working only part-time, had been jailed twice since adjudication, and had not provided any proof of her place of residence to DHS. Regarding the children, the court suspended Beck's visitation on the recommendation of the children's therapist. Regarding sobriety, the court found that Beck had not remained clean and sober; that she had tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, THC, and opiates; that she had missed drug/alcohol assessment appointments; and that she had not completed a drug-treatment program. Despite these findings adverse to Beck, the trial court continued the goal of the case as reunification, with a concurrent plan of legal adoption/legal guardianship/permanent custody.

         On June 29, 2016, the court conducted a permanency-planning hearing and changed the goal of the case to termination of parental rights and adoption. One month later, on July 29, 2016, DHS filed a petition to terminate Beck's parental rights, alleging the following grounds: twelve months' failure to remedy; subsequent other factors; and aggravated circumstances. The Department alleged that it was in the best interest of the children for Beck's parental rights to be terminated, citing homelessness, inadequate supervision, continued sexual abuse, and "all dangers associated with a parent abusing illegal substances."

         The termination hearing was initially scheduled for October 5, 2016. Beck did not appear at the call of the docket. She had moved to the state of Utah and, due to difficulty with travel, was late for the hearing. [2] The termination hearing was finally held on December 16, 2016. The court heard from numerous witnesses, including Beck, regarding Beck's compliance with the case plan, the adoptability of the children, and the progress of the children in therapy and foster care. The court found the Department's witnesses to be credible in this regard. After the hearing, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the children had been out of Beck's custody for over 12 months, she had failed to follow and complete the case plan, and she had not remedied the circumstances that brought the children into the state's custody; (2) her failure to complete the case plan and remedy the conditions that brought the children into custody demonstrated her incapacity or indifference to remedy the circumstances preventing reunification; and (3) the Department had offered her numerous services to achieve reunification and that there was little likelihood that continued services would result in successful reunification and, as such, that Beck had subjected the children to aggravated circumstances. The court noted that Beck had moved to Utah after the permanency-planning hearing and that, since that hearing, she had attempted to make progress on the case plan. However, the court found that Beck's resumption of contact and her efforts to participate in the case plan or follow the orders of the court both after the permanency-planning hearing and before the termination-of-parental-rights hearing, were insufficient to prevent termination of her parental rights. The court found the Department had proved all three statutory grounds alleged in the petition and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate Beck's parental rights. More specifically, the court stated it had considered the likelihood that the children would be adopted and the potential harm to the children if they were returned to Beck's custody. Beck appeals the order of termination.

         II. Standard of Review

         The rights of natural parents are not to be passed over lightly. The termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural rights of parents. Fox v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014 Ark.App. 666, 448 S.W.3d 735. As a result, there is a heavy burden placed on the party seeking to terminate the relationship. Id. However, parental rights will not be enforced to the detriment or destruction ...

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