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In re L.L.G.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

March 7, 2017


         On Appeal from the 315th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2014-05822J

          Panel consists of Justices Boyce, Busby, and Wise.


          J. Brett Busby Justice.

         The trial court terminated the parental rights of M.G. ("Mother") and G.G. ("Father") with respect to their children, Luke, Paige, and Chris, [1] and appointed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") to be the children's managing conservator. Mother appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's finding that termination of her parental rights was in the children's best interest. She does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the findings on the predicate statutory bases for termination, nor does she challenge the Department's appointment as managing conservator. Father does not appeal. Because the termination is supported by sufficient evidence, we affirm the judgment.


         A. Removal

         The Department received a referral in November 2014 alleging Mother was not supervising and was using drugs around twins Luke and Paige, then almost three years old, and eight-month-old Chris. The reporter stated Mother routinely used methamphetamine while the children were in her care. She would lock the children in a room in the house in which they were living, and the twins would climb out the window and wander to a neighbor's home. The referral also mentioned there was a pool in the backyard. Mother was asked but refused to submit to a drug test. The Department removed the children from Mother's care a few days later.

         Mother had history with the Department. She had twice been reported to the Department for negligent supervision, and each time she was said to be using drugs. The allegations in the first referral were ruled out. The record indicates the disposition of the second referral was "reason to believe / ruled out."

         Following removal, the trial court signed an order requiring both parents to comply with any family service plan by the Department. Mother's service plan identified the tasks and services she needed to complete before the children could be returned to her care. The plan required Mother to submit to random drug testing; refrain from participating in criminal activity or interacting with people who have a history of drug use; submit to a substance abuse assessment and follow the assessor's recommendations; participate in individual therapy and follow the therapist's recommendations; undergo a psychosocial assessment and follow the assessor's recommendations; complete a parenting class; maintain regular contact with the Department; attend and participate in all hearings, permanency conferences, scheduled visitations, and meetings requested by the court or the Department; and maintain contact with her caseworker.

         B. Trial

         Mother, Father, and Department caseworker Marion Hackett testified at trial. Among the documents admitted into evidence were Mother's 2013 conviction for failure to identify herself to a peace officer, her 2015 indictment for aggravated robbery, the family service plan the Department created for her, her certificate of completion for the Mentoring Moms program, and her attendance sheets for Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous meetings and a Women and the Law class.

         Mother admitted abusing methamphetamine. She said that before the Department removed her children, she used the drug "periodically" and "socially" but never around her children. On the day the Department investigated the November 2014 referral, Mother refused to take a drug test. After her children were removed, Mother smoked or snorted methamphetamine twice a day, every day. A high from methamphetamine lasted five hours, and Mother confirmed she was high most of her waking hours. Her drug habit cost her $20 per day, which she earned by cleaning houses.

         Mother was incarcerated at least twice in the year following her children's removal. She was jailed for 22 days in the spring of 2015 for credit card abuse. She was arrested again for credit card abuse on November 10, 2015 and had been incarcerated on that charge for six months at the time of trial. Then, on November 21, Mother was indicted for an aggravated robbery said to have occurred on November 8. Mother and the State had reportedly reached a plea agreement on that charge at the time of trial. The record does not indicate if or how long Mother would remain incarcerated, and therefore unable to take care of her children, under the terms of that agreement.

         In the 18 months between her children's removal and trial, Mother visited her children five times. She said she did not believe she was stable enough to be around her children more frequently because she was abusing drugs.

         Mother did not attend any court proceedings in this case except trial. She said she was scared to go to court due to her drug addiction and having a warrant for her arrest. The record does not indicate if there was a warrant for Mother's arrest between November 9, 2014, when the children were removed, and November 8, 2015, the day she is alleged to have committed aggravated robbery.

         Mother called Hackett once at the beginning of the case and made arrangements to meet to discuss her service plan but did not appear for that meeting. The children's maternal grandmother, who was caring for the children, urged Mother many times to contact Hackett again, but she never did. Mother did not meet the children's guardian ad litem / attorney at litem until the day of trial, though he talked regularly with the grandmother.

         Hackett testified Mother failed to complete the requirements of her service plan. Mother did not initiate, let alone complete, the individual therapy, substance abuse assessment, psychosocial assessment, or parenting class required by the service plan. She did not submit to random drug testing. Mother failed to attend court hearings, meetings with Department personnel, or family group conferences. She also failed to maintain contact with her caseworker. Mother testified she did not know that if she did not complete the required services, her parental rights could be terminated. Hackett testified she never went over the service plan with Mother.

         The children were placed with their maternal grandmother when they were removed. According to Hackett, the permanency plan was for their grandmother to adopt the children or be their managing conservator. Then in early 2016, the grandmother notified Hackett she could no longer care for the children. The Department moved the children to their maternal great-aunt's home in February 2016, and they were in her care at the time of trial. Their great-aunt is not able to adopt the children for personal reasons. The Department explored other relative placements, including the children's paternal grandfather and Mother's cousin. Both relatives initially expressed willingness to care for the children but then rescinded or stopped communicating with the Department. As of the time of trial, the plan was for the children to remain with their great-aunt until the end of the school year, then be placed in foster care.

         Before they were removed, Mother had not taken the children to the pediatrician in at least six months. After they were removed, all three children were consistently said to be healthy and happy throughout the case.[2] Four and a half years old at the time of trial, the twins were in pre-kindergarten and performing well. Luke had a heart murmur a cardiologist said posed no concern and would disappear with age. Paige was being treated for amblyopia (lazy eye). Luke was in speech therapy and was responding well. No special needs were noted for two-year-old Chris.

         During the six months she had been incarcerated at the time of trial, Mother took three concrete steps toward sobriety and fulfilling her parental responsibilities.

         First, she completed a 90-day program through the jail called Mentoring Moms. She described it as a holistic program in which participants work on their "mind, body, and soul." The program includes education on relapse prevention, coping, problem-solving, and reentry after the participant is released from jail. Mother attended the program five days a week for eight hours a day.

         Second, she attended Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous meetings weekly. More frequent meetings were not available. ...

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