FROM THE CRAWFORD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 17JV-15-287]
HONORABLE MICHAEL MEDLOCK, JUDGE
Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge.
Dowdy appeals the Crawford County Circuit Court order
terminating her parental rights to her three children. Dowdy
argues that the circuit court clearly erred in finding
sufficient proof of grounds for termination and in finding
that termination was in the children's best interest. We
JW, three-year-old AD, and nine-day-old TA were taken into
custody by the Department of Human Services (DHS) in December
2015. A protective-services case had been opened in June 2015
after it had been determined that Dowdy's boyfriend had
caused marks on AD's legs. Both Dowdy and her boyfriend
tested positive for THC and were offered services, but they
did not participate. In October 2015, there was a report that
Dowdy had slapped JW in the face, leaving a handprint. Prior
to TA's birth, Dowdy had been evicted from her home and
was staying with friends. The home she brought TA to from the
hospital was inappropriate due to dog feces around the house
and the lack of a crib.
AD had been living with Dowdy's father and his wife since
June 2015, but Dowdy had threatened to take them and DHS
believed she would flee.
children were adjudicated dependent-neglected in January 2016
due to parental unfitness and neglect. The court specifically
noted Dowdy's use of illegal drugs and the hazardous home
environment, and it found that Dowdy had physically abused
JW. Dowdy was ordered to complete certain services and to
obtain appropriate housing, employment, and transportation.
After an April 2016 review hearing, the court found that
Dowdy had completed a drug-and-alcohol assessment and a
psychological evaluation, but she had attended only seven out
of twenty-six parenting-without-violence classes. The court
found that she remained in the same inappropriate living
situation and lacked adequate income and transportation.
Following a second review hearing three months later, the
court found that Dowdy had made no further progress on her
case plan. At that point, she was living with friends in
Oklahoma. The circuit court changed the goal of the case to
adoption following a November 2016 permanency-planning
hearing in which the court found that Dowdy had not complied
with the case plan or court orders.
termination hearing was held in February 2017. The evidence
established that Dowdy was homeless, jobless, and
incarcerated. Dowdy testified that she was incarcerated in
the county jail after having been arrested on three
failure-to-appear warrants stemming from driving tickets,
including driving with a suspended license. She said that she
had given up her car due to these legal troubles and planned
to get a bus pass for transportation. She testified that she
had contacted someone about working at the chicken plant and
had made plans to apply for an income-based apartment but was
arrested before she could do so.
had completed a psychological evaluation and a
drug-and-alcohol assessment but had not completed the
recommended treatment. The drug-treatment facility would not
accept Dowdy while she was taking a benzodiazepine. Dowdy
said that she was prescribed this medication to treat
depression, and she declined to quit taking it because it was
the only medication that had helped her after having tried
several others. Dowdy said that she had recently made a down
payment to start classes at a treatment facility in Oklahoma,
but she then decided to return to Arkansas. She testified
that she had completed parenting-without-violence classes and
turned in a certificate to DHS, but the caseworker, K.C.
Oliver, testified that she never received the certificate.
Dowdy denied having slapped JW in the face and said that she
could not name offhand anything she had learned from the
testified that she could "have everything together"
and be in a position to take custody of the children if the
court would give her four weeks from the time she is released
from jail. When asked what had changed to allow her to
accomplish these things now when she had failed to act over
the course of the past year, Dowdy said that she had stopped
listening to family and friends who thought they knew what
was better for her. Oliver testified that all of the children
were happy and healthy and had no barriers to adoption.
TA's foster parents wanted to adopt her.
circuit court announced from the bench that it was
terminating Dowdy's parental rights, stating that any
plan for rehabilitation that would enable reunification
within a reasonable time was not viable or believable based
on Dowdy's current circumstances. In its order, the court
found that four statutory grounds for termination had been
proved. TA's father executed a consent to the termination
of his parental rights, but the court denied DHS's
petition to terminate the parental rights of Zachary Wright,
JW and AD's father.
standard of review in appeals of
termination-of-parental-rights cases is de novo, but we
reverse a circuit court's decision to terminate parental
rights only when it is clearly erroneous. Hernandez v.
Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 250, 492
S.W.3d 119. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although
there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the
entire evidence is left with a distinct and firm conviction
that a mistake was made. Id. In deciding whether a
finding of the circuit court is clearly erroneous, we give
great deference to the superior opportunity of ...