FROM THE MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 44JV-16-5]
HONORABLE STACEY ZIMMERMAN, JUDGE.
Standridge, for appellant.
A. Sharum, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge.
White appeals the Madison County Circuit Court order
terminating his parental rights to his daughter, AH. On
appeal, White challenges the circuit court's finding that
termination of his parental rights was in AH's best
interest. We affirm.
Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) removed AH from
the custody of her mother, Kelsey Hull, soon after her birth
in January 2016. Hull and the newborn both tested positive
for methamphetamine, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and
opiates. Hospital staff reported that Hull had been leaving
the hospital and returning smelling of alcohol. Additionally,
she was homeless. Hull's mother, Kathy Green, was the
permanent guardian of Hull's oldest child, and Hull's
sister had been caring for her other son.
appeared at the probable-cause hearing, where the circuit
court ordered that he have visitation with AH at the
hospital, communicate with the caseworker, submit to drug
screens, obtain and maintain stable housing and employment,
and demonstrate the ability to protect the child from harm.
White failed to appear for the February 26, 2016 adjudication
hearing, and the court found that he had not submitted to a
drug screen or visited the child since the probable-cause
hearing. The circuit court found that AH was
dependent-neglected due to neglect and parental unfitness and
that she had been subjected to aggravated circumstances. AH
remained in the custody of DHS, but she was moved to the
provisional foster home of her maternal grandmother, Kathy
Green. In addition to the court's prior orders, White was
ordered to participate in individual counseling, have a
drug-and-alcohol assessment, and complete parenting classes.
April 22, 2016, the circuit court ordered that reunification
services would no longer be provided and authorized a plan
for termination of parental rights and adoption. White had
failed to appear for the hearings on this date, and the court
found that he had not availed himself of services or visits.
After a termination hearing in June 2016, the court
terminated Hull's parental rights but denied the petition
as to White. The court found that White was entitled to more
time because he had not been transported from prison for the
no-reunification-services and permanency-planning hearings,
and he was not represented by counsel at those hearings
despite having filed a pro se motion for appointment of
counsel.The court additionally noted that White had
sent letters to the court, he was the nonoffending parent in
the case, and he had testified about taking classes in
prison. However, the court also found that White had been
incarcerated for most of the case, was currently incarcerated
on a parole violation, and had new pending charges.
Reunification with White was set as the new goal of the case,
and a permanency-planning hearing was scheduled. The court
later granted White's motion to continue the hearing
until after his release from prison, but White was again
incarcerated when the hearing was held in January 2017. The
court again authorized a plan for adoption.
testified at the February 2017 termination hearing that he
was incarcerated for violating his parole and expected to be
released in June. He had been released from prison on the day
AH was born in January 2016 after serving about six months
for a parole violation on the underlying conviction of
possession of methamphetamine. White said that he was present
for the first thirteen days of AH's life when she was
hospitalized. He was arrested again, however, around March
13, 2016, for possession of drugs. White claimed that he was
"just somewhere where everybody got charged." He
was convicted of that charge and incarcerated from March 2016
to November 23, 2016. After being released on parole, he was
arrested for possession of methamphetamine around December
13, 2016. White said that this charge was due to "riding
around with the wrong people." He was awaiting trial on
this charge, but he believed it would be dropped.
wanted Green to have permanent custody, but he claimed that
once he was released he would have a job and could provide
love and support to AH. AH had been placed with Green since
February 2016, and White had not had any visitation during
that time. AH did not know him. Green testified that she
wanted to adopt AH and had been approved as an adoptive home.
The caseworker testified that White had not complied with any
court orders and that AH's permanency was more important
than granting more time to White.
circuit court found that two statutory grounds for
termination existed and that termination was in AH's best
interest. On appeal, White argues that termination was not in
AH's best interest in light of her placement with her
maternal grandmother. He does not challenge the grounds for
termination, and he concedes that AH is adoptable.
order to terminate parental rights, a circuit 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. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A)(i) &
(ii) (Repl. 2015). Clear and convincing evidence is that
degree of proof that will produce in the finder of fact a
firm conviction as to the allegation sought to be
established. McElwee v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 214, 489 S.W.3d 704. The appellate
inquiry is whether the circuit court's finding that the
disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is
clearly erroneous, giving due deference to the circuit
court's opportunity to judge the credibility of the
witnesses. Id. A finding is clearly erroneous when,
although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing
court, on the entire evidence, is left with a definite and
firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Id.
circuit court is required to consider only potential harm to
a child's health and safety that might come from
continued contact with the parents; there is no requirement
to find that actual harm would result or identify the
potential harm. Pine v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2010 Ark.App. 781, 379 S.W.3d 703. Furthermore,
the juvenile's need for permanency and stability
overrides a parent's request for additional time to
improve circumstances, and courts will not enforce parental
rights to the detriment of the well-being of the child.
McElwee, supra. The intent of the
termination statute is to provide permanency in the
child's life in all circumstances where a ...