FROM THE SALINE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 63JV-16-353]
HONORABLE GARY ARNOLD, JUDGE.
Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.
Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
MARK KLAPPENBACH, JUDGE.
Lesley Bridges appeals the June 20, 2018 order of the Saline
County Circuit Court that terminated her parental rights to
her three-year-old son, LL. Bridges does not challenge the
circuit court's finding that there were statutory grounds
on which to terminate her parental rights. On appeal, Bridges
challenges the circuit court's finding that termination
of her parental rights is in LL's best interest,
specifically contesting that there was potential harm to LL
if returned to his mother's custody. Bridges asserts that
the circuit court clearly erred and that the termination
order must be reversed. We affirm.
review termination-of-parental-rights orders de novo but will
not reverse the circuit court's findings of fact unless
they are clearly erroneous. Harjo v. Ark. Dep't of
Human Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 268, 548 S.W.3d 865. A
finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence
to support it, the appellate court is left on the entire
evidence with the firm conviction that a mistake has been
committed. Id. We must also defer to the superior
position of the circuit court to weigh the credibility of the
witnesses. Ewasiuk v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 59, 540 S.W.3d 318. On appellate
review, this court gives a high degree of deference to the
circuit court, which is in a far superior position to observe
the parties before it. Id. Termination of parental
rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural
rights of parents, but parental rights will not be enforced
to the detriment or destruction of the health and well-being
of the child. Id.
to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3) (Repl.
2017), an order forever terminating parental rights shall be
based on a finding by clear and convincing evidence that it
is in the best interest of the juvenile, including
consideration of the likelihood that the juvenile 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. The order must also find by
clear and convincing evidence one or more grounds. Ark. Code
Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B).
purpose of the termination-of-parental-rights statute, Ark.
Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(3), is to provide permanency in
a juvenile's life in all instances in which the return of
a juvenile to the family home is contrary to the
juvenile's health, safety, or welfare, and it appears
from the evidence that a return to the family home cannot be
accomplished in a reasonable period of time, as viewed from
the juvenile's perspective. 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. Blasingame v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2018 Ark.App. 71, 542 S.W.3d 873. A parent's
past behavior is often a good indicator of future behavior.
case, the circuit court found that there were multiple
statutory grounds on which to terminate the mother's
parental rights. Appellant does not contest the sufficiency
of the evidence of statutory grounds. The circuit court also
found that it was in LL's best interest to terminate
parental rights. Under the umbrella of the child's best
interest, the circuit court specifically considered that LL
was "highly adoptable" with hundreds of families
interested in adopting LL or a child sharing his
characteristics. Appellant does not contest whether there was
sufficient consideration of LL's adoptability.
other factor that must be considered when deciding what is in
the child's best interest is whether the child would be
subjected to potential harm if returned to his parents.
Appellant asserts on appeal that the circuit court clearly
erred in its best-interest finding because of a lack of
potential harm to LL if returned to his mother. In sum,
appellant contends that she complied with the case-plan
requirements, that she had appropriately cared for her son
during unsupervised visitations, that she eventually admitted
she needed drug treatment, and that she was doing well ever
since she embraced treatment and sobriety. We disagree that
she has demonstrated clear error in the circuit court's
amplified recitation of the evidence is necessary to explain
our decision. In November 2016, the Department of Human
Services (DHS) sought emergency custody of LL, who was then
eighteen months old, based on severe injuries that his
two-month-old sibling JL had suffered. Appellant took JL to
the emergency room, but this was apparently several hours
after JL had been injured. The history of injury did not
match JL's conditions, so DHS was notified. JL died from
his extensive brain injuries. The father was arrested,
ultimately convicted of murder, and sentenced to prison.
March 2017, appellant stipulated that LL was
dependent-neglected, in part due to the delay in seeking
medical treatment for JL. Appellant was given a case plan and
ordered to complete certain services. In June 2017, appellant
was deemed compliant with her case plan, having maintained
stable housing and employment, having participated in
counseling, and having had successful unsupervised
visitation. After a review hearing in September 2017, the
circuit court found that appellant had continued her pattern
of compliance with the case plan.
permanency-planning hearing was conducted in November 2017.
At that time, the circuit court was encouraged by
appellant's compliance but remained concerned about her
emotional stability, which affected her ability to properly
protect LL from harm. Appellant's ...