FROM THE COLUMBIA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 14JV-17-17]
HONORABLE DAVID W. TALLEY, JR., JUDGE.
D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for
appellant Stephanie Smith-McLeod.
Katalina Wyninger, for appellant Gregory McLeod.
Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
J. GLADWIN, Judge.
Smith-McLeod and Gregory McLeod appeal a Columbia County
Circuit Court order terminating their parental rights to
their daughter, I.M. Stephanie challenges the trial
court's findings on both statutory grounds and best
interest. Gregory challenges only the statutory grounds for
termination. We find no error and affirm.
Procedural Facts and History
McLeod and Stephanie Smith-McLeod are the parents of I.M. The
McLeod family has a history of involvement with the Arkansas
Department of Human Services (Department). The Department
investigated two unsubstantiated allegations in July 2012 and
July 2016. In September 2015, the Department investigated a
hotline call alleging that Stephanie was living in the woods
with I.M. and that they had no food. These allegations were
found to be true. The family moved in with a relative and a
protective-services case was opened.
February 27, 2017, Stephanie was arrested on charges of
kidnapping, endangering the welfare of a minor, possession of
drug paraphernalia, and possession of a controlled substance.
Gregory was arrested on charges of criminal mischief,
resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a minor,
possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana,
and driving on a suspended license. Their arrests came after
they had removed a relative's child from the hospital
because they feared the child would be taken by the
Department under "Garrett's law." In order to
escape with the child, Stephanie punched a nurse in the face.
Stephanie subsequently admitted being under the influence of
methamphetamine and K2 at the time of her arrest. Because
two-year-old I.M. was with them at the time of their arrest,
I.M. was taken into custody on a seventy-two-hour hold. The
Department subsequently learned that a relative had been
caring for I.M. for over two months before Stephanie's
arrest and that Stephanie had never cared for I.M. long term.
Department filed a petition for emergency custody and
dependency-neglect. Stephanie and Gregory stipulated to
probable cause and eventually stipulated that I.M. was
dependent-neglected on the basis of neglect, admitting that
they had failed to appropriately supervise I.M., which
resulted in I.M.'s being placed in an inappropriate
circumstance that created a dangerous situation and placed
her at a risk of harm. Further, they admitted that they were
unable to assume the responsibility for I.M.'s care and
custody due to their arrest and incarceration. At the
adjudication hearing, Gregory and Stephanie were incarcerated
but ordered to avail themselves of any and all services
germane to the case plan that were offered through the
Arkansas Department of Correction.
subsequent review hearing, the court found that Stephanie and
Gregory had not demonstrated progress toward the goals of
reunification due to their incarceration. The court also
found that they had been unable to complete and benefit from
services under the case plan and had been unable to remedy
the issues that prevented the safe return of I.M. to their
permanency-planning hearing held on March 2, 2018, the court
noted that Stephanie had been incarcerated until February 21,
2018, and Gregory had been incarcerated for the duration of
the case. The court then changed the goal of the case to
termination of parental rights and adoption, finding that
neither Stephanie nor Gregory had made any significant
measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in
the case plan, and neither had diligently worked toward
reunification or placement of the child in the home.
on this change of goal, the Department filed a petition to
terminate parental rights as to both Gregory and Stephanie on
aggravated-circumstances (i.e., little likelihood that services
would result in reunification) grounds and alleged that
termination was in I.M.'s best interest. The court
conducted a termination hearing and granted the petition to
terminate parental rights, finding that termination was in
I.M.'s best interest and that the Department had proved
both statutory grounds. Stephanie and Gregory both appeal the
trial court's order terminating their parental rights.