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In re A.H.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

March 28, 2017


         On Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2015-05394J

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Higley, and Massengale.


          Michael Massengale Justice

         This is an accelerated appeal from a decree terminating parental rights. In her only viable appellate issue, the mother asserts that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to show that termination was in the best interest of her child. See Tex. Fam. Code § 161.001(b). We find sufficient evidence to support the trial court's decree, and we affirm.


         The mother in this case gave birth to a son, A.H.L., at 27 weeks' gestation. Due to complications of prematurity, the child spent the first four months of his life in the hospital. The mother was 37 years old, and she had schizoaffective disorder, for which she was receiving care from a psychiatrist and taking medication.

         While the baby was in the hospital, nurses and others observed the mother's behavior. At times, she refused to touch the child because she believed "the devil was inside of him." She required reminders to visit him. She did not feed him or change his diaper as was expected of parents by hospital staff. Instead, she had the nurses feed and change him. She refused to stay overnight with the baby when his doctor asked her to demonstrate her ability to care for him. When hospital staff sought permission to administer routine vaccinations, she accused them of abusing the baby.

         During one visit, the hospital staff became concerned for the baby's well-being upon discharge. The mother did not know the day, date, or time, and she was delusional, paranoid, and agitated. She spoke rapidly, and her thoughts were jumbled. In addition to this unusual behavior, the mother had not demonstrated an ability to care for her child, and the hospital staff were uncertain about the conditions the baby would encounter upon release from the hospital.

         A referral for neglectful supervision was made to the Department of Family and Protective Services, and a caseworker investigated. The caseworker saw A.H.L. at the hospital, and she reported that the baby was generally in good health except for a lingering bowel issue. The caseworker saw the mother ten days later at the home she shared with her disabled aunt. The mother told the caseworker that she was on maternity leave, but she had made no preparations in anticipation of the baby's discharge from the hospital. Although the infant was expected to be released from the hospital soon, the only baby item in the mother's possession was a bottle of baby oil. The mother told the caseworker that the baby would go home with a woman named Felisha Davis, but no contact information for this woman was provided.

         The caseworker asked the mother about her criminal and mental-health history. Despite having several prior criminal convictions, the mother denied having any criminal history. She admitted that she had schizophrenia and that she took Haloperidol, an antipsychotic medication. She refused to sign a release to allow the Department to obtain her medical records because she did not like the texture of the paper. She also complained that the caseworker failed to offer an interpreter or ask her which language she preferred, even though she spoke only English.

         Based on the investigation, baby A.H.L. was placed in foster care upon discharge from the hospital. While the infant had bonded with a nurse in the hospital, when he entered foster care he initially had difficulty bonding with his caregivers. Gradually, he bonded with his foster mother, and he began making eye contact, grabbing her hand, and smiling.

         In addition to bonding issues, A.H.L. had medical issues. When he entered foster care, he had asthma, a bleeding eye, and bowel issues. He required surgery for a hernia and to correct tongue and lip ties. He regularly saw a gastroenterologist for acid reflux and an otolaryngologist due to frequent ear infections, concerns about his hearing, and the possible need for ear tubes and adenoid removal.

         Because he had spent months in the hospital, A.H.L. had developmental delays. He experienced feeding difficulties and required expensive formula. His strength was asymmetrical, and he had both torticollis (twisted neck) and plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome). As he grew, he began to sit and crawl, but because of delays in reaching developmental milestones, he received both occupational and physical therapy.

         Child Advocates became involved not long after A.H.L. was released from the hospital, and Child Advocate Laura Beth Nelson was assigned to the case at the end of October 2015. Nelson did not testify at trial, but her June 2016 report was admitted into evidence. In it Nelson observed that the mother had participated in supervised visits, but she expressed concern as to whether the mother understood the care required to address the baby's health needs. She also observed that the foster caregiver ensured that ...

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