FROM THE SCOTT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 64JV-16-45]
HONORABLE TERRY SULLIVAN, JUDGE
Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE.
Black appeals from the Scott County Circuit Court order
terminating her parental rights to her son, S.N. On appeal,
Black argues that it was not in S.N.'s best interest to
terminate her parental rights. Specifically, Black asserts
that because S.B., a sibling of S.N.'s, remained in her
custody, the circuit court's potential-harm finding was
in error. Black does not contest the statutory grounds for
termination. For the following reasons, we affirm.
order forever terminating parental rights must be based on
clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the
child's best interest. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(A) (Supp. 2017). In determining whether
termination is in the child's best interest, the circuit
court must consider the likelihood that the child will be
adopted if the termination petition is granted and 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, parents, or putative parent or
parents. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A)(i) and (ii).
Additionally, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS)
must prove by clear and convincing evidence at least one
statutory ground for termination. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(B). We do not reverse a termination order
unless the circuit court's findings of clear and
convincing evidence were clearly erroneous. Meriweather
v. Ark. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 98
Ark.App. 328, 255 S.W.3d 505 (2007). Because Black makes no
challenge to the statutory grounds found by the circuit court
to terminate her parental rights, the statutory-grounds
decisions must be affirmed. See Benedict v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 96 Ark.App. 395, 409, 242
S.W.3d 305, 316-17 (2006).
2014, S.N., who was four years old at the time, was removed
from the custody of Black. S.N. was subsequently adjudicated
dependent-neglected because Black "could not provide
adequate supervision or housing for the juvenile as a result
of her substance abuse." S.N. was eventually placed with
his father, Jeffrey Newell. Black complied with the case plan
only in part, and the circuit court found that her compliance
was insufficient for reunification with S.N. Custody was
awarded to Newell with supervised visitation to Black, and
the case was closed.
months after the case had been closed, S.N. was removed from
Newell on an emergency basis after he was arrested concerning
a fatal stabbing, thus leaving S.N. without a caretaker.
Black appeared at the probable-cause hearing, as well as the
adjudication hearing, without an attorney, and no appeal was
filed from the adjudication order. However, the circuit court
found that although Black, as the noncustodial parent, was
not present when the incident that led to S.N.'s removal
occurred, she was not a fit parent for purposes of custody at
first review hearing in March 2017, the circuit court found
that Black was not in compliance with the case plan and court
orders in that she was unemployed, was behind in child
support, had failed to take the steps necessary to attend
counseling with her son, and had tested positive for
marijuana. Her compliance had not improved significantly as
of the July 2017 permanency-planning hearing, and the court
questioned whether she could parent S.N. because she had
stated in court that it took her a week to function after
attending court. Black had custody of another
child--S.N.'s younger sister, S.B., throughout all the
proceedings concerning S.N.
August 22, 2017, DHS filed a petition for termination of
parental rights alleging that Black was unfit to take
custody, that she had failed to provide support, and that
further services would not benefit her. DHS also alleged that
termination would be in S.N.'s best
interest. Eight weeks later, DHS filed a motion for
continuance of the termination hearing, asserting that Black
had shown "significant improvement over the last couple
months and [had] completed most of her services." DHS
sought additional time to allow Black to show consistency in
her improvement. The court held a hearing on the motion and
denied the continuance. As a result, DHS moved for dismissal
of its petition, which the court granted. In the resulting
order, the court ordered that the case be referred to
DHS's Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS)
central office and recommended that a new caseworker be
assigned who was "independent of the case."
January 9, 2018, the court held a review hearing and found in
the resulting order that Black had an appropriate home and
lived with her two-year-old daughter, S.B., and that she had
been employed through a temporary service. The order also
noted that Black had testified that she had just started a
full-time job at the humane society. The circuit court found
that a church had been assisting Black in paying her bills
and that she was to pay it back at $100 a month; the order
also recognized that Black had a driver's permit and a
vehicle, that she was visiting S.N. regularly and was
attending family counseling, and that she had completed
parenting classes. Black also underwent a psychological
evaluation and a drug-and-alcohol assessment and completed a
drug-and-alcohol safety program for a DWI conviction.
However, the circuit court still found that it could not
place S.N. with Black, despite commending her for being
drug-free, because "she has issues of instability in her
parenting and in finances and employment."
January 10, DHS filed another petition for termination of
parental rights, alleging that while Black had been complying
with the case plan and testing negative on her drug screens,
Black had been relying on her church and its members for
financial support and had opened a crowdfunding account on
GoFundMe with an underlying falsified story seeking further
financial support. DHS also alleged that while S.B. remained
in Black's custody, Black had an "inability to
parent two children" and that her psychological
evaluation indicated "parenting issues."
March 27, 2018, the court held a hearing on the petition for
termination of parental rights. The testimony reflected the
history of the case as delineated in the court's orders,
although the caseworker added that Black had recently tested
positive for marijuana. The caseworker acknowledged, however,
that S.B. was left in Black's care and custody even after