FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23JV-17-175]
HONORABLE DAVID M. CLARK, JUDGE
Standridge, for appellant.
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor children.
MARK KLAPPENBACH, JUDGE
appeal arises from the circuit court's January 14, 2019
order terminating the parental rights of Treasure Morris to
her four-year-old son, TM, and two-year-old son, JM. The
children's father, Franklin Morris, also had his parental
rights terminated, but he is not a party to this appeal. The
children were removed from the home by the Arkansas
Department of Human Services (DHS) in June 2017 due to
environmental neglect. The circuit court found that after
more than a year in which to correct the conditions and
demonstrate that she could provide a safe environment for her
sons, Morris had failed to do so. The circuit court also
found that it was in the best interest of the boys to
terminate her parental rights. Morris appeals these findings.
of parental rights is a two-step process requiring a
determination that the parent is unfit and that termination
is in the best interest of the child. Houseman v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 227, 491 S.W.3d
153. The first step requires proof of one or more statutory
grounds for termination; the second step, the best-interest
analysis, includes consideration of the likelihood that the
juvenile will be adopted and of the potential harm caused by
returning custody of the child to the parent. Id. We
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Id. The grounds for termination of parental rights
must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, which is the
degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm
conviction regarding the allegation sought to be established.
Id. When the burden of proving a disputed fact is by
clear and convincing evidence, the appellate inquiry is
whether the circuit court's finding that the disputed
fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly
erroneous. Id. 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
resolving the clearly erroneous question, the reviewing court
defers to the circuit court because of its superior
opportunity to observe the parties and to judge the
credibility of witnesses. Id.
facts in this case are not in material dispute. This appeal
concerns the conclusions to be drawn from these facts. From
August 2016 (when the younger child JM was born) through
April 2017, DHS had an open protective-services case
concerning environmental neglect in the home. DHS intervened
due to "trash everywhere" including dirty diapers,
dog and cat feces, and exposed electrical cords in the home.
DHS provided the family services to avoid having to take the
boys into custody, but those efforts ultimately did not work.
checked on the family in June 2017 following a hotline call.
DHS found the family home to be in deplorable condition, with
piles of trash, dirty diapers, old food, empty cans and
bottles, bugs, feces, piles of clothes, and other items
covering the floors throughout the house. The refrigerator
was filthy. There were cigarette butts and other hazardous
items within the children's reach.
the next month, the parents cleaned up the house, so in
mid-July 2017, the circuit court permitted the boys to go
home for a trial placement. By mid-August 2017, however, the
DHS caseworker visited the family and found the home and
children in terrible condition. Both boys had bug bites on
their bodies; one boy had bruising on his eye and back; the
other boy had a rash around his genitals. There was urine and
feces in the children's beds, there were exposed
electrical cords "all over the place, " and there
were piles of things inside and outside the home. The boys
were taken back into DHS custody. In September 2017, the boys
were found to be dependent-neglected.
the following months, there continued to be environmental
issues with the home. Morris was a stay-at-home mother with
no job outside the home, and DHS provided the family with
services, including homemaker services and chore lists; cash
assistance for pest control to address an extreme roach
infestation; parenting classes; budgeting assistance;
cleaning supplies; and counseling. Despite these services,
the parents often permitted the home to be cluttered, filthy,
and dangerous to children. The DHS case worker observed feces
and urine on the floor; trash, laundry, and dishes throughout
the house; and wires, chemicals, tools, and cigarette butts
that the children could access. Although there were occasions
when the parents would clean up the home, they would
inevitably permit the home to go back to a state of squalor
unfit for children, regardless of whether DHS conducted
planned or surprise visits. The parents did not consistently
clean up urine and feces on the floor in the house left by
their pets (a cat, a litter of kittens, and a puppy), which
was exacerbated by their getting two additional puppies
during this open DHS case. The caseworker told the parents
over and over not to leave food out for days, not to leave
cigarette butts on the table, and not to leave extension
cords out in the open, all of which were dangerous because
the boys could put those things in their mouths.
termination hearing was conducted in December 2018,
approximately a year and a half after the boys initially went
into DHS's custody. The parents moved to a different home
about a month before the termination hearing, and Morris was
pregnant with another child. Photographs taken by DHS just
days before the termination hearing showed that the home had
pet urine and feces in various places on the floor, there was
clothing and other items piled up around the house, the stove
top was encrusted with what appeared to be food materials,
and there was dark mold in and around the
boys were doing well in their foster home, and their foster
family was interested in adopting them. JM had a
digestive-system disorder that required a strict dietary
regimen, and he was in speech therapy and swallow therapy. TM
had allergies that were treated with medications. Otherwise,
the boys were both happy and thriving in their foster
father agreed that the home they had in Conway was messy,
that initially things were not acceptable for his boys, and
that he and the mother would "go backward and
forward" with keeping it clean. He said that they had
moved to North Little Rock in November 2018, that they had
improved in keeping their home clean and safe, and that the
new home they were leasing was a better place. He said ...