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Furnish v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 4, 2017

NATASHA MICHELLE FURNISH APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES and MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT [NO. 16JJV-15-410] HONORABLE CINDY THYER, JUDGE

          Tina Bowers Lee, 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.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Appellant Natasha Furnish appeals a Craighead County Circuit Court order terminating her parental rights to three of her children, B.M., A.M., and C.M.[1] 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

         The Department of Human Services (DHS) exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on R.M., B.M., A.M., and C.M. on November 10, 2015, at the direction of the Cleburne County Circuit Court at a Family in Need of Services (FINS) hearing. The court directed the hold after Furnish had tested positive for amphetamines, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepine. Although the hold was taken in Cleburne County, DHS filed its dependency-neglect petition in Craighead County where Furnish was a resident.

         The children were subsequently adjudicated dependent-neglected on December 11, 2015, based on parental unfitness due to Furnish's drug usage.[2] The court ordered Furnish to remain drug free, to submit to random drug screens, and to submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment and follow the recommendations thereof. She was further ordered to participate in and complete parenting classes; obtain and maintain clean, safe, and stable housing with working utilities; obtain and maintain stable income or employment; and to provide DHS with a budget indicating sufficient income or resources to meet the needs of the family.

         At a review hearing in May 2016, the court continued the goal of the case as reunification, finding that Furnish had only partially complied with the case plan. Specifically, the court found that she had not participated in parenting classes, remained drug free, obtained appropriate housing, obtained stable employment, or prepared or submitted a budget. The court also noted that Furnish had missed two drug-and-alcohol-assessment appointments as well as her psychological evaluation. The court ordered her to attend inpatient-drug treatment.

         A second review hearing was held on July 27, 2016. The court again found that Furnish was not cooperating or complying with the case plan, continuing the same failures from the last review hearing: she still had not participated in parenting classes, obtained appropriate housing or stable employment, or prepared a budget. With regard to sobriety, the court was unable to determine if she had remained drug free because she had not submitted to random drug testing. The court noted that Furnish was admitted to a 120-day inpatient-drug-rehabilitation program, but she left of her own volition after completing only twelve days.

         On September 9, 2016, less than one year from the date of removal, DHS filed a petition to terminate Furnish's parental rights to B.M., A.M., and C.M., alleging the subsequent-other-factors ground for termination. DHS alleged that Furnish had failed to complete her parenting classes; did not have stable employment; had not completed a budget indicating sufficient income; had sporadic and tardy visitation; had not submitted to random drug screens since July 2016; had left inpatient-drug rehabilitation before its completion; and had recently tested positive for meth and opiates. In regard to the recent positive tests, DHS alleged that Furnish had given birth to another child, M.M., who tested positive for opiates at birth.

         The court held a termination hearing on October 11, 2016. After the hearing, the trial court entered an order terminating Furnish's parental rights to the three children. The court found that DHS had proved by clear and convincing evidence the subsequent-other-factors ground for termination. The court then held that termination was in the best interest of the children, finding that the children are adoptable and that there was potential harm to the children if returned to Furnish's custody. Furnish appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights, challenging the court's findings on both statutory grounds and best interest.

         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 the 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. In order to terminate parental rights, a trial court must find by clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the best interest of the juvenile, taking into consideration (1) the likelihood that the juvenile will be adopted if the termination petition is granted; and (2) the potential harm, specifically addressing the effect on the health and safety of the child, caused by returning the child to the custody of the parent. Ark. Code Ann. ยง 9-27-341(b)(3)(A)(i) & (ii) (Repl. 2015). The order terminating parental rights must also be based on a showing of clear and convincing evidence as to one or more of the grounds for termination listed in section ...


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