FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23JV-16-402]
HONORABLE DAVID M. CLARK, JUDGE
Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge
Norris appeals the order of the Faulkner County Circuit Court
that terminated his parental rights to his daughter, A.F.
Norris challenges both the statutory grounds supporting the
decision to terminate his parental rights and the
potential-harm finding that informed the court's
best-interest conclusion. We find no error and affirm.
Background and Procedural History
was born in October 2016 with methamphetamine in her system.
The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a
petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect
removing A.F. from the custody of her mother, Jessica
McCoy. At the time of A.F.'s birth, Jessica
was married to Joshua McCoy; therefore, both Jessica and
Joshua were named as A.F.'s legal parents on the petition
although A.F.'s biological father was unknown at the
time. The court entered an ex parte order for
emergency custody, a probable-cause order, and in November
2016, an adjudication order finding A.F. dependent-neglected.
In the adjudication order, the court noted that it accepted
the parties' stipulation that the allegations in the ex
parte petition and accompanying affidavit were true and
stating as well that this was a "Garrett's Law"
case. The adjudication order reflected that the parties were
Jessica McCoy as the mother, Joshua McCoy as the legal
father, and Zachery Free as the putative father. Norris was
not a party at the time of adjudication.
February 2017, the circuit court, acting on information that
Norris might be A.F.'s biological father, issued an order
for DNA testing to determine parentage. The DNA test revealed
that Norris is A.F.'s biological father. Accordingly, by
order entered on May 9, 2017, the court added Norris as a
party, ordered Norris to comply with the case plan and court
orders, and ordered DHS to conduct a home study on Norris and
his mother. By this time, A.F. was seven months old.
being determined to be A.F.'s biological father, Norris
was also permitted to begin visitation with her, and he
participated in the review-hearing process, attending a
review hearing in July 2017. The court's subsequent
review order noted that Norris had visited with A.F. for two
hours on March 28 and two hours on May 24. In addition to his
participation with visitation, the court found that Norris
was employed and had partially complied with the case plan.
Because Norris tested positive for THC, the court ordered
Norris to submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment. The court
further ordered him to take steps to resolve issues with his
driver's license, complete the paperwork necessary to
complete his home study, and comply with the case plan and
court orders. DHS was concomitantly ordered to complete the
home study, arrange Norris's drug-and-alcohol assessment,
and provide him assistance with transportation. The court
determined that the goal of reunification was still
appropriate for A.F., but the concurrent goal of adoption was
permanency-planning hearing in October 2017, the court
determined that the goal of the case should be adoption
because "neither parent has made significant measurable
progress that would justify continuing with [the] goal [of
reunification]." With respect to Norris, the court found
that he had failed to comply with the case plan and court
orders in that he had failed to maintain meaningful contact
with DHS; he had failed to complete the paperwork to have a
home study performed on his residence; and he had visited
with A.F. only three times since March of that year. The
court did allow Norris to continue having visitation,
although it changed the goal of the case to adoption.
filed its petition for termination of parental rights as to
Norris and the McCoys in November 2017. As to Norris, DHS
pled five separate grounds for termination. After a hearing
on the petition, the circuit court found that DHS had proved
the statutory grounds necessary for termination.
Specifically, the court found that DHS had proved three
grounds: the "twelve-month failure to support or
communicate" ground, abandonment, and aggravated
circumstances by abandonment. The court also found, based on
the caseworker's testimony that A.F.'s foster parents
wished to adopt her, that A.F. was adoptable. Finally, the
court found that Norris's "lack of involvement and
visitation with [A.F.] demonstrate[s] how [A.F.] would be at
risk of potential harm if returned" to Norris. The
circuit court entered an order and a subsequent amended order
terminating Norris's parental rights. Norris filed a
timely notice of appeal, and he now challenges the circuit
court's findings regarding the statutory grounds and the
potential-harm prong of its best-interest analysis.
Standard of Review
appeal, we review termination-of-parental-rights cases de
novo but will not reverse the circuit court's ruling
unless its findings are clearly erroneous. Dade v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 443, 503 S.W.3d
96. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is
evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire
evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been made. Id. In determining whether a
finding is clearly erroneous, we have noted that in matters
involving the welfare of young children, we ...