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.
Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad litem for
appeal arises from the circuit courts 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
childrens 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.
Termination 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. Dept 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 courts 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 childrens 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 childrens 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
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 ...