FROM THE SCOTT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 64JV-15-38]
HONORABLE TERRY SULLIVAN, JUDGE
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Allen appeals the January 30, 2017, Scott County order
terminating her parental rights to her two children, K.A. and
S.A. On appeal, she argues that there was insufficient
evidence presented to establish that termination of her
parental rights was in the best interest of her children. We
October 9, 2015, appellant Kristin Allen took her
unresponsive two-year-old daughter, K.A. to a local emergency
room, claiming that K.A. had gotten into the medicine
cabinet. K.A. was airlifted to Arkansas Children's, where
laboratory tests revealed that the then two-year-old was
positive for cocaine and PCP. Given the circumstances, the
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) assumed emergency
custody of K.A. and her older brother, S.A. (d.o.b.
probable-cause hearing was held on October 13, 2015, and the
circuit court found that emergency conditions existed that
necessitated DHS's continued custody of the children. On
December 3, 2015, the children were adjudicated
dependent-neglected for neglect and parental unfitness. The
goal was set for reunification, and Allen was ordered to
submit to random drug screens; watch "The Clock is
Ticking" video; complete parenting classes; obtain and
maintain stable housing and employment; attend counseling;
submit to a psychological evaluation; submit to a
drug-and-alcohol assessment; cooperate with DHS; and comply
with the case plan.
case proceeded through two review hearings. Allen was found
to be in partial compliance at the first review hearing, and
DHS expanded visitation to a trial home placement. That
placement ended, however, when Allen was arrested for
possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia.
permanency-planning hearing was held on September 13, 2016.
The court found that Allen was living in a motel, had
sporadic employment, had failed to complete a
residential-treatment program, had used methamphetamine
within the last month, and had acquired new drug-related
charges. The goal of the case was changed to adoption. DHS
moved for termination of Allen's parental rights, and a
termination hearing was held on November 22, 2016.
hearing, Allen initially requested a continuance so that she
might complete a treatment program in which she was currently
engaged. DHS and the attorney ad litem objected on the basis
that she had been advised to seek treatment months ago, and
the court denied the continuance. The court then received
testimony from Dr. Dunn, the emergency-room doctor who first
treated K.A. before she was transferred to Arkansas
Children's; Detective Gonzales, the police officer who
arrested Allen for drug offenses; and Sherry Benjamin,
DHS's family-service worker assigned to the case.
Benjamin testified to, among other things, the circumstances
surrounding the termination of the trial home placement and
to the adoptability of the children.
also testified. At the hearing, she explained that she had
not completed the residential drug-treatment program because
she had been caught smoking. She was required to write an
essay as a punishment for smoking, but she could not complete
it in time. She testified that she was currently living at
Hope House in Little Rock and had entered a rehabilitation
program at Ouachita Medical Center. Allen also discussed her
felony drug charges. Allen admitted that she began using
methamphetamine when she lost custody of her children, and,
though she had been clean almost sixty days, she had relapsed
the week before. Allen acknowledged that she did not have
much success with drug treatment, but she was now committed
to becoming sober, attending meetings, and had committed to
the twelve-step program.
conclusion of the hearing, the court found that grounds for
termination existed and that it was in the best interest of
the children to terminate Allen's parental rights. An
order to that effect was entered on January 30, 2017. Allen
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Lively v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2015
Ark.App. 131, at 4-5, 456 S.W.3d 383, 386. It is DHS's
burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that it is
in a child's best interest to terminate parental rights
as well as the existence of at least one statutory ground for
termination. Id. On appeal, the inquiry is whether
the circuit court's finding that the 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 it, the appellate court, on the
entire evidence, is left with a definite and firm conviction
that a mistake has been made. Id. We give a high
degree of deference to the circuit court, as it is in a far
superior position to observe the parties before it and judge
the credibility of the witnesses. Id.
termination-of-parental-rights analysis is twofold; it
requires the circuit court to find that the parent is unfit
and that termination is in the best interest of the child.
The first step requires proof of one or more of the nine
enumerated statutory grounds for termination. Ark. Code Ann.
§ 9-27-341(b)(3)(B) (Repl. 2015). Because Allen has not
challenged the court's decision as to the grounds for
termination, we need not address those findings. Rather, the
only issue before this court is whether there was sufficient
evidence that termination was in the children's best
interest. A best-interest determination must consider the