FROM THE LONOKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 43JV-17-143]
HONORABLE BARBARA ELMORE, JUDGE
Davidson Law Firm, by: Stefan K. McBride, for appellant.
Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge
Clayton Carson appeals from the order of the Lonoke County
Circuit Court terminating his parental rights to his
daughter, I.C. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
4, 2017, the child-abuse hotline received a report of child
maltreatment due to substance misuse against Cathryn Herron,
I.C.'s mother. Another call was received on May 16, 2017,
from Dr. Farst at Arkansas Children's Hospital, stating
that ten-month-old I.C. had been transported to the hospital
by ambulance due to breathing difficulties, but the family
left with the child prior to discharge. The Arkansas
Department of Humans Services (DHS) opened a
protective-services case on the family for medical neglect.
For the next several months, family service worker (FSW)
Jackson attempted to make contact with Herron; however, her
attempts were unsuccessful. On August 7, 2017, Herron's
mother contacted FSW Jackson stating that Herron had dropped
I.C. off at her home and had expressed a desire to "sign
over her rights" to I.C.; nevertheless, guardianship
papers were not executed. On August 31, 2017, another family
member, Elizabeth Brown, contacted DHS claiming that Herron
had signed her rights to I.C. over to her and her husband.
Upon inspection, the documents, though notarized, were
determined not to be legally binding. Consequently, DHS
exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on I.C. due to lack of a
legal caretaker. On September 1, 2017, DHS filed a petition
for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. Attached to the
petition was an affidavit in which appellant Clayton Carson
was identified as the legal and/or putative father of I.C.
The affidavit further detailed his address as Wrightsville
Prison. The circuit court issued the ex parte order placing
I.C. in the custody of DHS.
was present at the probable-cause hearing held on September
5, 2017, at which Herron stipulated to the emergency
conditions necessitating removal. Carson was adjudicated the
father of I.C. and was ordered to complete the classes
available to him in prison.
was adjudicated dependent-neglected on October 10, 2017,
based on the parties' stipulation that she had no legal
caregiver. The goal of the case was established as
reunification, and Carson was granted supervised visitation
with I.C. on the first and third weekends of each month at
the Wrightsville Unit of the Arkansas Department of
Correction (ADC) for an hour and a half, at the discretion of
the facility. Carson was ordered to participate in all
classes available to him at ADC; cooperate with DHS and
follow the case plan; not use or possess controlled
substances; submit to random drug screens and provide a
proper sample when requested to do so; obtain a drug/alcohol
assessment and follow its recommendations; successfully
complete a drug-treatment program and follow all discharge
recommendations if the drug-and-alcohol assessment recommends
it; and submit to a hair-follicle drug screen at the request
circuit court held a review hearing on January 23, 2018, at
which Carson, who remained incarcerated at the Wrightsville
Unit, was not present. The court found that I.C. continued to
need services and ordered that she remain in the custody of
DHS. While the court noted that Carson had been unable to
exercise visitation with I.C. due to disciplinary action for
fighting at the prison, the court authorized visitation for
an hour every other week when he is off disciplinary
restrictions, subject to the prison's discretion. The
circuit court again ordered Carson to follow the case plan
and continued the previous court orders.
was absent from the second review hearing that was held in
April 2018. At the hearing, the circuit court suspended
Carson's visitation with I.C. due to Carson's
transfer to a prison facility in Texas. James and Susan
Carson (Carson's grandparents) were granted visitation
with I.C. every other Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
and were specifically prohibited from taking I.C. to visit
Carson while she was in their care. The court continued its
previous orders and ordered Carson to follow the case plan.
he had been moved to a prison facility in Pine Bluff, Carson
was not present on July 24, 2018, for the third review
hearing, at which the circuit court again continued its
previous orders and noted, there would be "no visitation
w/the father at this time."
September 4, 2018, the circuit court held a
permanency-planning hearing at which it authorized a plan for
adoption with DHS filing a petition for termination of
parental rights. The court found that DHS had provided
meaningful services, yet Carson had not made significant
measurable progress, specifically noting that Carson had been
incarcerated throughout the pendency of the case and had