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Issue Position: In Response to Trial Judge Terminating Parental Rights for Issues Related to Poverty

Issue Position

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The facts of this case are disturbing, but the fact that it is not an isolated case makes reversal even more imperative. Trial judges have a duty to insist upon strict compliance with the statutory criteria before entering an order terminating parental rights. This "[i]nsistence upon strict compliance with the statutory criteria … enhances the child's best interests by promoting autonomous families and by reducing the dangers of arbitrary and biased decisions amounting to state intrusion disguised under the rubric of the child's best interests." In re Danuael D., 51 Conn. App. 829, 724 A.2d 546, 553 (1999) (citations omitted). Therefore, our adherence to strict compliance with our statutes is not merely a standard of review. See Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs. v. Cox, 349 Ark. 205, 82 S.W.3d 806 (2002) (finding DHS's conduct deeply disturbing when agency took custody of child utterly without authority and outside the limited circumstances set out in our state statutes). As one law journal notes, statistical data on neglect and children living in poverty show that "[s]tate governments appear to be destroying family ties of a large number of poor families with no concomitant benefit to children." Second Chances: Insuring That Poor Families Remain Intact by Minimizing Socioeconomic Ramifications of Poverty, 102 W. Va. L. Rev. 607, 613 (Spring 2000).

In this State, we require strict compliance with our statutes before destroying those family ties. That was not done here, and this case should be reversed.

Johnson v. Arkansas Dept. of Human Services, 78 Ark. App. 112, 82 S.W.3d 183 (2002) (Baker, J., dissenting).


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