FROM THE CARROLL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, EASTERN DISTRICT [NO.
08EJV-16-34] HONORABLE SCOTT JACKSON, JUDGE
Standridge, for appellant.
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
Joanna Hudson appeals the May 4, 2017 order of the Carroll
County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her
minor child, H.G. She argues that the circuit court erred in
granting the termination-of-parental-rights petition because
appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) failed
to present sufficient evidence that termination was in
H.G.'s best interest. We affirm.
20, 2016, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and
dependency-neglect, alleging that then three-year-old H.G.
was dependent-neglected as a result of abuse, neglect, and
parental unfitness to the juvenile. The affidavit attached to
the petition alleged that on July 16, 2016, DHS received a
call from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office in regard
to a juvenile, H.G., with second-degree burns on the inside
of her thighs. The officer stated that the mother (appellant)
was being arrested for an outstanding warrant. Appellant was
then screened for drugs at the Carroll County Detention
Center where she tested positive for methamphetamine,
amphetamine, THC, and benzodiazepines. The affidavit also
noted the history this family has had with DHS including a
true finding for inadequate supervision in 2001 relating to
appellant's two other children, as well as a true finding
for inadequate supervision in 2013 regarding H.G., when
appellant was arrested for public intoxication and possession
of methamphetamine. An emergency order was entered on July 21,
2016. The court found that immediate removal of H.G. from
appellant was in the best interest of the juvenile and was
necessary to protect her health and safety as evidenced by
appellant's illegal drug use, unconvincing explanation of
the injury to H.G., and the arrest of appellant, which left
no legal caretaker for H.G.
did not appear at the probable-cause hearing, and the circuit
court ordered that H.G. remain in DHS custody. On October 3,
2016, DHS filed a petition for termination of parental
rights. The petition alleged multiple grounds and stated that
subsequent to removal, H.G. disclosed allegations of abuse
and sexual abuse by her mother and her mother's male
friend. On November 3, 2016, H.G. was adjudicated
dependent-neglected. Per the adjudication order, the
case-plan goal remained reunification, yet the circuit court
authorized service of the termination-of-parental-rights
petition by warning order.
February 16, 2017, the circuit court conducted the
termination-of-parental-rights hearing and appellant appeared
by telephone. At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit
court left the record open in order to give appellant an
opportunity to consider the testimony presented and to decide
if she wanted to voluntarily terminate her rights. The
circuit court stated that the case would be recessed and
heard again on March 16, 2017. On March 2, 2017, DHS filed an
amended petition for termination, which alleged the
abandonment ground; the
criminal-sentence-for-a-substantial-period ground; and the
aggravated-circumstances ground. The case was then continued
to May 4, 2017. Thereafter, on April 28, 2017, appellant
filed a letter explaining that she was doing everything she
could at the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) and that
she did not want her rights terminated; she also requested
visitation with H.G.
4, 2017, the circuit court terminated appellant's
parental rights pursuant to the subsequent-factors ground;
aggravated circumstances (including chronic abuse, sexual
abuse, and little likelihood that services to the family
would result in successful reunification); and the fact that
appellant was currently serving a sentence in a criminal
proceeding for a period of time that would constitute a
substantial period of H.G.'s life. The circuit court also
found that termination was in H.G.'s best interest as she
would be at risk of potential harm if returned to appellant
due to H.G.'s credible disclosure of physical and sexual
abuse by appellant; appellant's past substance abuse and
indifference to remedy it; appellant's lack of contact
with DHS since the case had been filed; indifference to
remedy the cause for removal; and appellant's current
incarceration. This timely appeal followed.
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. 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
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). The best-interest
determination must consider the likelihood that the children
will be adopted and the potential harm caused by returning
custody of the children to the parent. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(A). The court, however, does not have to
determine that every factor considered be established by
clear and convincing evidence. Spencer v. Ark. Dep't
of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 96, at 5-6, 426 S.W.3d
494, 498. Instead, after considering all the factors, the
evidence must be clear and convincing that the termination is
in the best interest of the child. Id.
appeal, appellant challenges only the circuit court's
best-interest finding. She does not challenge the grounds for
termination and therefore waives that issue on appeal.
determining the best interest of the child, the circuit court
should consider factors such as the likelihood of adoption
and the potential harm to the health and safety of a child if
subjected to continuing contact with the parent. Ark. Code
Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A)(i), (ii). Parental rights will
not be enforced to the detriment of the health and well-being
of the child. Christian-Holderfield v. Ark. Dep't of
Human Servs., 2011 Ark.App. 534, at 7-8, 378 S.W.3d 916,
920. The court is not required to find that actual harm would
result or to affirmatively identify a potential harm.
Jones v. Ark. Dep't of Human ...