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Chandler-Sivage v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

October 25, 2017

TIFFANY CHANDLER-SIVAGE APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FJV-15-486] HONORABLE SHANNON L. BLATT, JUDGE

          Tabitha McNulty, 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.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge

         Tiffany Chandler-Sivage (hereinafter Chandler) brings this appeal from the order of the Sebastian County Circuit Court, entered on March 21, 2017, that terminated her parental rights to her children K.A. (born on June 9, 2005) and C.C. (born March 24, 2012).[1] She contends that because she had made sufficient progress and the children were with relatives, the evidence was insufficient to support the court's finding that termination was in the children's best interest. We affirm.

         The statutory purpose of terminating parental rights is "to provide permanency in a juvenile's life" if returning the juvenile to the family home "is contrary to the juvenile's health, safety, or welfare and it appears . . . that a return to the family home cannot be accomplished in a reasonable period of time as viewed from the juvenile's perspective." Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(3) (Repl. 2015). Under this subsection,

(A) A parent's resumption of contact or overtures toward participating in the case plan or following the orders of the court following the permanency planning hearing and preceding the termination of parental rights hearing is an insufficient reason to not terminate parental rights.

Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(4).

         Termination requires a determination that the parent is unfit and that termination is in the best interest of the child. Houseman v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 227, at 2, 491 S.W.3d 153, 155. The first step requires proof of one or more statutory grounds for termination; the second requires consideration of whether termination is in the juvenile's best interest. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B), (A). Each step requires proof by clear and convincing evidence, which is the degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction regarding the allegation sought to be established. Id.

         The best-interest analysis includes consideration of the likelihood that the juvenile will be adopted and of the potential harm to the child if custody is returned to the parent. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A). The potential-harm analysis is to be conducted in broad terms; there is no requirement to find that actual harm would result. Dowdy v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2009 Ark.App. 180, 314 S.W.3d 722. A circuit court is required to consider only potential harm to the child's health and safety that might come from continued contact with the parents. Id. In deciding whether it is in the juvenile's best interest to terminate parental rights, the court shall rely on the record of the parent's compliance in the entire dependency-neglect case and evidence presented at the termination hearing. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(4)(B); McMahan v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 556, at 4-5, 472 S.W.3d 518, 520.

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with this family on September 23, 2015, when it received a report alleging that Chandler was using drugs and had mental-health issues. DHS opened a protective-services case and on September 30, 2015, filed a petition for dependency-neglect. Because Chandler expressed a willingness to address her mental-health and substance-abuse issues and because she allowed the juveniles to live with her sister, DHS sought to provide services to prevent the juveniles' removal rather than exercise a hold on them. On October 26, 2015, however, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect when Chandler's sister made a phone call saying that Chandler had been arrested on drug charges. The court entered its ex parte order for emergency custody the same day, finding that immediate removal of the juveniles from Chandler was in the juveniles' best interest and was "necessary to protect the health and safety of said juveniles from immediate danger notwithstanding available services designed to prevent their removal." The order further stated,

[T]he mother was arrested on October 23, 2015 and charged with possession of drugs with intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia, and maintaining premises for drug activities, leaving the juveniles with no legal caretaker. The Court finds that the efforts made to prevent removal of the juveniles were reasonable based on the family and juveniles' needs and that the removal occurred during an emergency where immediate action was necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the juveniles and where preventive services could no longer be provided. Therefore, the Arkansas Department of Human Services is deemed to have made reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removing the juveniles from the home.

         After conducting an adjudication hearing on December 14, 2015, the circuit court entered a March 28, 2016 order adjudicating K.A. and C.C. dependent-neglected because of inadequate supervision by Chandler. Specifically, the court found that the juveniles were dependent-neglected due to Chandler's drug use and arrest on serious drug charges. The court noted that she had been transported to the adjudication hearing from the county jail. The court ordered her to obtain and maintain stable and appropriate housing, income, and transportation; complete parenting classes and visit the children regularly; submit to random drug screens and hair-follicle testing; submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment and complete any recommended treatment; achieve and maintain total sobriety; submit to a psychological evaluation and comply with its recommendations; resolve pending criminal charges and comply with terms and conditions of any sentences; and immediately ...


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