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Allen v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

September 27, 2017



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

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.


         Kristin 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 affirm.

         On 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. 1-13-2011).

         A 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.

         The 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.

         A 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.

         At the 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.

         Allen 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.

         At the 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 appeals.

         We 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.

         The 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 ...

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