Joyce Carroll and Mark Murphy v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Annotate this Case
ca03-838

ARKANSAS COURT OF APPEALS
NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

DIVISION IV

JOYCE CARROLL AND MARK MURPHY

APPELLANTS

V.

ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

APPELLEE

CA03-838

March 31, 2004

APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

[NO. J-2003-74]

HON. JAY T. FINCH,

JUDGE

AFFIRMED

John Mauzy Pittman, Judge

The appellee, Arkansas Department of Human Services, filed a petition for emergency custody of S.M.M., alleging that the child was dependent-neglected by virtue of her parents' lack of housing, lack of stability, lack of employment, and a chronic inability to provide proper care and support for a juvenile. The appellee further moved to be relieved from the obligation of providing reunification services and petitioned for termination of appellants' parental rights. After a hearing, S.M.M. was found to be dependent-neglected; appellee was relieved from providing unification service to appellants; and parental rights were terminated. From that decision, comes this appeal.

For reversal, appellants contend that the trial court erred in finding that termination of parental rights was in the best interest of the child because there was no evidence that continuing contact with the parents would cause harm to the child. We find no error, and we affirm.

Termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy in derogation of the natural rights of parents; nevertheless, parental rights should not be allowed to continue to the detriment of the child's welfare and best interests. Walters v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, 77 Ark. App. 191, 72 S.W.3d 533 (2002). Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(4) (Repl. 2002) allows a court of competent jurisdiction to terminate the rights of a parent if the parent is found to have had his or her parental rights involuntarily terminated as to a sibling of the child. An order terminating parental rights must be based upon a finding by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3) (Repl. 2002). When the burden of proving a disputed fact is by clear and convincing evidence, the question on appeal is whether the trial court clearly erred in finding that the disputed fact was proven by clear and convincing evidence. Walters v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, supra.

In the present case, there was evidence that appellants had had their parental rights to several of S.M.M.'s siblings terminated in prior proceedings. There was also testimony that, in the course of those prior proceedings, appellants had been provided with services designed to rectify the extreme and chronic instability that had placed the children in danger, but that appellants did not avail themselves of these services: they missed visitation or left early, failed to submit job applications with which they were provided, never obtained stable employment or housing, failed to attend scheduled classes and appointments, failed to submit to random drug screenings as they were required to do, but tested positive for drug use before the final termination hearing. There was also testimony that appellants' instability had continued. They moved constantly, staying at the homes of friends, in numerous motels, in a trailer, briefly in a house with structural problems, at Salvation Army facilities, and in jail. Appellants essentially had no permanent residence in the year before S.M.M. was born. Although both of them had been employed for approximately three weeks at the time of the termination hearing, they had not been paid anything but cigarette money, and they did not know their employer's last name, even though they testified that they were sharing their one-bed motel room with him. Finally, there was testimony from a family service worker with experience with appellants' situation that appellants had not complied with reunification efforts before, and that there were no indications that they would do so in the future.

We do not agree with appellants' argument that the appellee failed to make a required showing that the child would be harmed by further contact with them. First, we do not agree that such a showing is required. Although the trial court was required under Ark. Code Ann.§ 9-27-341(b)(3) (Repl. 2002) to consider the likelihood of adoption and the potential harm to the health and safety of a child that might result from continued contact with the parents, nothing in the statutory scheme mandates a finding of actual harm as a prerequisite to termination of parental rights. Stability and permanence for children are the objectives of the termination procedure, and living in continued uncertainty is itself potentially harmful to the child. See Bearden v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, 344 Ark. 317, 42 S.W.3d 397 (2001).

Affirmed.

Robbins and Bird, JJ., agree.