FROM THE COLUMBIA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 14JV-15-101]
HONORABLE DAVID W. TALLEY, JR., JUDGE
Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.
Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
M. GLOVER, Judge
Easter appeals from the termination of her parental rights to
her four children-KC1, JC1, JC2, and KC2. She contends the
trial court clearly erred in finding termination was in the
children's best interest and that statutory grounds were
proved to support the termination. We affirm.
took emergency custody of Easter's four children on
December 8, 2015, because there was suspected child abuse in
connection with the broken leg of one of the children. The
accompanying affidavit explained in part that the child
stated his father hurt him, and that Easter corrected the
child stating that the father had tried to help him. The
children were subsequently adjudicated dependent-neglected.
The trial court found the explanations concerning the
child's broken leg were unsatisfactory. In addition,
Easter tested positive for THC. The goal of the case was
reunification, but after nineteen months, DHS filed its
petition to terminate Easter's rights. Following a
hearing, the trial court granted the petition, finding it was
in the children's best interest and that DHS had proved
three statutory grounds ("failure to remedy, "
"subsequent factors, " and "aggravated
circumstances"). The father's parental rights were
also terminated, but he is not involved in this appeal.
termination hearing, Quiana McGhee, the family-service-worker
supervisor, testified she had been working on this case since
March 2016; the case was opened when the children were
removed in December 2015; one of the children had an
unexplained broken leg; and there had been an earlier open
protective-services case. She testified Easter tested
positive for marijuana on January 25, 2017, after starting a
trial placement with the children on January 6. She stated
that earlier one of Easter's children had tested positive
for illegal substances at birth on March 1, 2015, and that
one of the children had four large scratches on his face on
February 12, 2015. Easter's case plan included a
psychological evaluation, counseling, a drug assessment,
obtaining employment and suitable housing, and parenting
classes. McGhee described Easter's performance under the
case plan as "up and down"; initially, she had done
everything she needed to do; but later she had used drugs,
even though she denied doing so; she lost one job but got
another; and lost her housing and was living with relatives.
She explained Easter had not completed her treatment and had
tested positive for drugs, i.e., methamphetamine, again in
March; and she had continued to test positive for alcohol
even though she had been told not to be around or to use
drugs or alcohol.
stated Easter had attended inpatient treatment; Easter
started after care but did not complete it; and she had not
adhered to mental-health counseling. McGhee could think of no
other services that could be offered to achieve
reunification, and she could not say Easter had made
significant measurable progress under the case plan or worked
diligently toward reunification. She recommended termination.
Beck, counselor for outpatient services with Southwest
Arkansas Counseling Mental Health Center, testified as an
expert in substance-abuse counseling and treatment. She
stated she was familiar with Easter's chart and the
clinical services provided to her but not with Easter. She
explained that Easter's assessment found she was not
capable of maintaining abstinence on her own; she would need
further treatment after her inpatient stay; she did not
complete treatment; abstinence was the focus; and alcohol was
considered a drug. She testified it would be a concern to her
in treating a patient if they stopped testing positive for
street drugs but started testing positive for alcohol because
it was a replacement, demonstrating poor coping mechanisms.
She stated it was never acceptable to her agency for an
addict to use any mind-altering substance, but acknowledged
moderation-management-therapeutic techniques exist and none
of those techniques were used on Easter.
Easter testified she was currently employed at Burger King
and explained she had stopped working at Tyson in January
because of a broken finger. She acknowledged testing positive
for THC in January 2017, but denied smoking or ingesting it.
She stated she was riding in a car with others, heading to
Tyson for a meeting, and she got a second-hand high. She
acknowledged telling the court that she was still employed at
Tyson at that time, but that she was actually going back for
a meeting to see if she could get her job back-she thought
she was still employed. She denied using methamphetamine and
testified someone might have slipped it into her drink when
she had her first positive alcohol test. She still denied
using it even though the lab confirmed methamphetamine. She
remembered the court ordering her to refrain from using
alcohol, but she acknowledged she continued to use it. She
remembered the substance-abuse counselors telling her the
importance of not using alcohol, but she still chose to do
stated her belief that she had substantially completed the
case plan but acknowledged she did not complete the
outpatient treatment. She testified: she was living with her
grandmother; she sometimes stays with her uncle; she
anticipates getting her own home soon; she barely brings home
$200, after child-support is taken out; she is on a waiting
list for housing aid; she completed parenting classes and the
35-day inpatient treatment at River Ridge; and she visits her
children every Monday.
appeals involving the termination of parental rights, our
standard of review is de novo. Johnson v. Arkansas
Dep't of Human Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 221___,
S.W.3d___. DHS must prove allegations by clear and convincing
evidence, or proof that will produce in the fact finder a
firm conviction that the allegation has been established.
Cotton v. Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs., 2012
Ark.App. 455, 422 S.W.3d 130. The appellate inquiry is
whether the trial court's finding that the disputed fact
was proven by clear and convincing evidence is clearly
erroneous. Johnson, supra. We will not
reverse unless the trial court's findings are clearly
erroneous, giving due regard to the court's opportunity
to judge the credibility of the witnesses. Cotton,
supra. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although
there is evidence to support it, on the entire evidence, we
are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake
has been made. Id. The termination of parental
rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural
rights of parents. Johnson, supra.
Accordingly, the rights of natural parents are not to be
passed over lightly; however, parental rights will not be
enforced to the detriment or destruction of the health and
well-being of the child. Id.
termination of parental rights is a two-step process
requiring a determination that the parent is unfit and that
termination is in the best interest of the child.
Id. The first step requires proof of one or more
statutory grounds for termination; the second step, the
best-interest analysis, includes consideration of the
likelihood that the juvenile will be adopted and of the
potential harm caused by ...