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Blasingame v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

January 31, 2018



          Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Bret D. Watson, for appellant.

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

          Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, Judge

         Richard Blasingame appeals the Sebastian County Circuit Court's termination of his parental rights to his three minor children, A.B., I.B., and R.B. On appeal, he argues that there was insufficient evidence to support any statutory ground for termination, termination was not in the children's best interest, and the court failed to enter a timely order. We affirm.

         After numerous investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect dating back to 2011, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) removed Blasingame's three children in September 2015 because their mother was high on drugs and hallucinating.[1]

         Blasingame fled the home when police arrived.[2] The case proceeded in the normal fashion, and Blasingame was ordered to comply with the case plan, which required that he maintain stable and appropriate housing, income, and transportation; complete parenting classes; complete drug, alcohol, and psychological assessments and all recommended treatment; submit to drug screens as required by DHS; and visit his children regularly. He was also ordered to complete domestic-violence classes.

         The evidence presented at the termination hearing demonstrated that Blasingame failed to complete outpatient treatment or marital counseling; failed to attend domestic-violence classes; and continued a pattern of criminal behavior throughout the case, resulting in multiple arrests for battery, trespass, and violation of his probation. Blasingame testified that he had been arrested six times during the pendency of this case. Blasingame also failed to maintain stable and appropriate housing and employment; he was evicted during the case. At the time of the termination hearing, Blasingame testified that he was currently living in a one-bedroom trailer and was hoping to soon move in with a friend, but he acknowledged that the friend's home would not be appropriate for the children.

         The children went through numerous foster placements during the case. At one point, they were placed with their aunt and uncle, Justin Voight, who testified at the hearing. Voight testified that Blasingame's phone visitation with the children did not go well and that Blasingame had threatened to have Voight killed after they had a disagreement about phone visitation. The caseworkers testified that the children were currently placed together in a therapeutic foster home and that the foster parents were interested in adoption. Caseworkers testified that there was no reason to believe the children would not be adopted.

         Blasingame claimed that he was unable to comply with many of the case-plan requirements because he lacked transportation, but his caseworker testified that she had provided him with a six-month supply of bus passes and had personally provided the family with transportation on many occasions. Blasingame also presented evidence that he had made some progress in the case recently. He was doing odd jobs, although it was not stable income and wasn't sufficient to support the children. He had completed parenting classes, a drug-and-alcohol assessment, and a psychological assessment. However, the circuit court found that this progress was insufficient given his continued instability, failure to follow the case plan, and numerous arrests and violent offenses. At the end of the February 2017 hearing, the court granted the petition to terminate Blasingame's parental rights, although it did not issue the written order until June. In its written order, the court found that termination was appropriate under three statutory grounds: (1) failure to remedy, (2) subsequent factors, and (3) aggravated circumstances (little likelihood that further services would result in successful reunification). The court also found that termination was in the children's best interest. Specifically, the court found that the children were adoptable and, alternatively, that if not adoptable, adoptability was of no legal significance because the risk of harm posed by returning them to their parents outweighed any concerns about their adoptability.

         We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Dinkins v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 344 Ark. 207, 40 S.W.3d 286 (2001). At least one statutory ground must exist, in addition to a finding that it is in the child's best interest to terminate parental rights; these must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341 (Supp. 2017); M.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 58 Ark.App. 302, 952 S.W.2d 177 (1997). Clear and convincing evidence is that degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction as to the allegation sought to be established. Anderson v. Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). The appellate inquiry is whether the circuit court's finding that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly erroneous. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997); Tucker v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2011 Ark.App. 430, 389 S.W.3d 1; Pine v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2010 Ark.App. 781, 379 S.W.3d 703. Credibility determinations are left to the fact-finder. Moiser v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 95 Ark.App. 32, 233 S.W.3d 172 (2006).

         The intent behind the termination-of-parental-rights statute is to provide permanency in a child's life when it is not possible to return the child to the family home because it is contrary to the child's health, safety, or welfare, and a return to the family home cannot be accomplished in a reasonable period of time as viewed from the child's perspective. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(3). Even full compliance with the case plan is not determinative; the issue is whether the parent has become a stable, safe parent able to care for his or her child. Camarillo-Cox v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 360 Ark. 340, 201 S.W.3d 391 (2005); Cole v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2012 Ark.App. 203, 394 S.W.3d 318. A parent's past behavior is often a good indicator of future behavior. Stephens v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 249, 427 S.W.3d 160. Termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of a parent's natural rights; however, parental rights will not be enforced to the detriment or destruction of the health and well-being of the child. Pine, supra.

         The standard of review in appeals of termination of parental rights is de novo, but we reverse a circuit court's decision to terminate parental rights only when it is clearly erroneous. Ullom v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 340 Ark. 615, 12 S.W.3d 204 (2000); Mitchell v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 715, 430 S.W.3d 851; Brewer v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 71 Ark.App. 364, 43 S.W.3d 196 (2001). 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 ...

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