FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. 66FJV-16-163] HONORABLE SHANNON L. BLATT, JUDGE
Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.
K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge
Anita Middleton appeals from the termination of her parental
rights to her children M.H., F.M., and B.M., who range in age
from nine to thirteen years old. On appeal, Anita argues that
the termination order should be reversed because there was
insufficient evidence that termination was in the
children's best interest. We affirm.
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Mitchell v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013
Ark.App. 715, 430 S.W.3d 851. At least one statutory ground
must exist, in addition to a finding that is in the
child's best interest to terminate parental rights; these
must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code
Ann. § 9-27-341 (Supp. 2017); M.T. v. Ark. Dep't
of Human Servs., 58 Ark.App. 302, 952 S.W.2d 177 (1997).
Clear and convincing evidence is that degree of proof that
will produce in the factfinder a firm conviction as to the
allegation sought to be established. Anderson v.
Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). The
appellate inquiry is whether the trial court's finding
that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing
evidence is clearly erroneous. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of
Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). 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. Yarborough v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 96 Ark.App. 247, 240 S.W.3d 626 (2006).
case began when appellee Arkansas Department of Human
Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody of the
children on March 28, 2016. An attached affidavit of a
family-service worker stated that the Fort Smith Police
Department had called DHS and reported that Anita had been
arrested on drug charges. Anita was stopped by the police for
not having tags on her vehicle as she was leaving a motel.
Drugs and drug paraphernalia were found in the vehicle. Anita
informed the police that F.M. and B.M. were in a motel room
with a babysitter. The babysitter was also arrested. M.H. was
at the house of a family friend. DHS took an emergency hold
of the children. Anita was arrested for possession of
methamphetamine with purpose to deliver, possession of
marijuana with purpose to deliver, and possession of drug
March 28, 2016, the trial court entered an ex parte order for
emergency custody of the children. In the emergency order,
the trial court found that due to Anita's arrest, the
children were left with no legal caregiver and that removal
of the children from their mother was necessary to protect
their health and safety. A probable-cause order was entered
on April 20, 2016.
trial court entered an adjudication order on September 14,
2016, finding the children to be dependent-neglected. The
trial court noted in the adjudication order that Anita
remained incarcerated on drug charges. The goal of the case
was reunification. Anita was ordered to contact DHS upon her
release from jail; maintain stable housing, income, and
transportation; submit to random drug screens; submit to a
drug-and-alcohol assessment and complete any recommended
treatment; achieve and maintain total sobriety; and resolve
her pending criminal charges and comply with the terms and
conditions of any criminal sentence.
December 30, 2016, the trial court entered a review order
finding that Anita remained incarcerated and that the goal of
the case remained reunification. On March 21, 2017, the trial
court entered a permanency-planning order and determined the
goal of the case to be concurrent goals of reunification and
adoption. In the permanency-planning order, the trial court
noted that Anita expected to be released from prison in April
17, 2017, the trial court entered a fifteen-month review
order. In that order, the trial court found that there were
compelling reasons to continue the goal of reunification
because Anita had made remarkable progress since her release
from prison and was participating in the Restore Hope
drug-rehabilitation program. The trial court found that Anita
had been complying with the case plan and was diligently
working toward reunification. The trial court found that
Anita shall have extended visitation with M.H. and B.M.
beginning immediately; Anita was granted visitation with
these children for two consecutive nights to coincide with
Anita's work schedule in the home of the paternal
grandparents where Anita was staying. The trial court ordered
Anita's visitation with F.M. to be in accordance with the
recommendation of the juvenile's treatment team.
permanency-planning order was entered on December 13, 2017,
wherein the case goal was stated to be reunification because
Anita was complying with the case plan, making measurable
progress, and diligently working toward placement in her
home. The trial court stated that placement of the children
in Anita's home was likely to occur within a time frame
consistent with the children's developmental needs.
dependency-neglect case subsequently took a turn for the
worse. On February 28, 2018, the trial court entered a review
order finding that Anita had failed to comply with the case
plan during this review period. The trial court found that
Anita no longer had employment and that she had again begun
to use methamphetamine. The trial court noted that Anita had
tested positive for methamphetamine on a hair-follicle test.
The children had been transitioned into a trial home
placement with Anita, which was terminated due to Anita's
relapse into drug use. After the positive hair-follicle test,
Anita entered an ...