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In re L.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

December 19, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF L.C., M.C., J.E.S. AND D.M., CHILDREN

On appeal from the 343rd District Court of Live Oak County, Texas.

Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORA L. LONGORIA Justice

This is a termination of parental rights case involving one parent and four children. By two issues, appellant Y.G. challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the judgments terminating her parental rights over her minor children, L.C., M.C., J.E.S., and D.M.[1] See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(1)(D), (E), (0), (P), § 161.001(2) (West 2008). We affirm.

I. Background

On July 28, 2011, the Department received a referral alleging neglectful supervision of L.C., M.C., and J.E.S. by appellant.[2] The report alleged that appellant was leaving the children in the care of her boyfriend M.M., a drug dealer; appellant was using drugs herself; someone in the house was supplying marijuana to C.G., appellant's oldest child; and M.M. was having sexual contact with C.G.

The Department opened an investigation and ruled out all of the allegations involving C.G. The Department also found that appellant had "acted appropriately" in taking C.G. to medical appointments and enrolling her in counseling. Appellant later sent C.G. to live with relatives in California, and C.G. is not a party to the case. The Department remained involved with appellant because a drug test that appellant submitted to during the initial contact tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Appellant had previously admitted to taking Ritalin that had not been prescribed for her. The Department was also concerned that appellant had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder and had not been treated or taken any prescribed medication for four years. Appellant signed a safety plan that included having a relative move into her house to monitor contact between appellant and her children. As part of the plan, appellant agreed to complete a substance abuse assessment, a mental health screening, attend and complete counseling, and avoid consuming illegal drugs.

The case was transferred to the Department's Family Based Services, and Yolanda Gonzalez was assigned as the caseworker.[3] Gonzalez first made contact with appellant in November of 2011 and discovered that the relative who agreed to monitor contact between appellant and her children had moved out. Appellant signed a second safety plan where she agreed that her neighbor would monitor appellant's contact with her children. During the home visit, Gonzalez also observed that appellant's face appeared bruised; appellant explained that she had been assaulted by six teenagers who tried to rob her. The next day, Gonzalez transported appellant and her children to a doctor's appointment; appellant admitted to her that she had actually been assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, J.S, who is the father of J.E.S. Appellant explained that she did not call the police because her current boyfriend M.M. was also involved in the fight and "they did not want any trouble."

During a home visit on December 21, 2011, Gonzalez observed that appellant's face again appeared bruised. Appellant told Gonzalez that J.S. appeared at her house and assaulted her again, but that the children were at a neighbor's house at the time. Appellant also told Gonzalez that M.C. broke her arm in the shower a few days before. The caseworker spoke with M.C, but she "could not determine if this happened while she was alone in the shower or not."

Gonzalez received appellant's initial substance abuse assessment on the same day. The therapist wrote that appellant was "unkempt, loud, defensive, evasive, and resistant." The therapist also noted that appellant "seemed unstable" because appellant reassured her son that she was not mad at the therapist and was not going to harm the therapist even though appellant's son had not spoken during the assessment.

On December 27, 2011, an assistant caseworker transported appellant to a follow-up mental health assessment during which appellant stated that she no longer wished to move to avoid J.S. Gonzalez called appellant and they agreed to meet to discuss a safety plan. The next day, Gonzalez went to appellant's residence to discuss the safety plan but discovered that appellant had left her children in the care of her neighbor and left town for a day.

Gonzalez returned to appellant's residence on December 29. Appellant signed a new safety plan where she agreed to not let J.S. into the house and to call the police if he tried to confront her. Appellant again submitted to a drug screening, and admitted that she consumed methamphetamines when she had been out of town. Appellant explained that she had been drinking alcohol with friends the day before and "started freakin' out and [. . .] needed to calm down" because she wanted to cut herself. Appellant stated that this was the first time in five years that she had felt a desire to harm herself. Appellant also stated that she consumed methamphetamines to avoid sleeping because of nightmares. Appellant denied ever using drugs while taking care of her children; appellant's neighbor confirmed that she takes care of the children "every time [appellant] goes out, " including on the day when appellant said that she had most recently used methamphetamines. Appellant signed an updated safety plan where she agreed that she would not use drugs and that her neighbor would continue to monitor appellant's interaction with her children. Appellant's drug screening returned positive for methamphetamines.

On January 3, 2012, appellant contacted Gonzalez with a placement option for the children. The Department agreed to the placement and the children were placed.[4]On February 3, 2012, appellant and M.M. picked up the children from the placement residence "unexpectedly" and "without any clothing or supplies." The Department was unable to locate the children and petitioned the court for temporary managing conservatorship. The Department cited appellant's "ongoing methamphetamine use and untreated mental illness with vulnerable children in her care" as grounds for removal. The trial court granted the Department's petition.

The trial court held an adversary hearing on February 15, 2012. J.S., the father of J.E.S., was contacted by phone to inform him of the adversary hearing, but he did not appear. The trial court issued a temporary order confirming the Department's conservatorship. The temporary order required appellant to comply with "each requirement of the Department's original, or any amended, service plan." Appellant signed the service plans promising to refrain from using illegal drugs and acknowledging that if she failed to comply with the plans' requirements, she would not regain custody of her children, and could permanently lose custody.

Following a status hearing held on March 28, 2012, the Department could not contact appellant for a period of approximately three months despite multiple attempts. Once the Department resumed contact with appellant, they learned that she had moved from Three Rivers, Texas to Beeville, Texas without notifying the Department in order to "start a new lifestyle." The Department later learned that for part of that time appellant had checked herself into the Rainbow House in Corpus Christi and later moved to the Women's Shelter, stating that she did not want to return to her house because of the risk of assault from J.S.

Sandra Alvarez, another Department caseworker, testified at the termination hearing that appellant later successfully completed parenting, anger management, and substance-abuse classes, but the Department remained concerned because appellant was unable to secure adequate housing. Appellant later obtained work as a gate guard, but she had stopped attending counseling because of the amount of hours that she worked each day. Appellant was still unable to find housing that was big enough for all of the children and could not explain how she would be able to take care of her children if she regained custody due to the length of her working day.

On November 19, 2012, the Department received another referral regarding appellant because she tested positive for amphetamines when she gave birth to D.M.[5]Appellant admitted to Alvarez that she consumed Ritalin that had not been prescribed to her for two months prior to the birth. Alvarez also testified that appellant was no longer on the medications prescribed to her by MHMR to treat her mental illnesses.[6] The trial court granted the Department temporary managing ...


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