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In re R.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 4, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF R.T., F.M.P., AND F.L.P., CHILDREN

         On Appeal from the 313th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2015-06661J

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Busby, and Jewell.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Kevin Jewell Justice.

         Appellant F.D.P., III ("Father") appeals the trial court's final decree terminating his parental rights and appointing the Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") as sole managing conservator of appellant's child, F.L.P. ("Fiona").[1] The trial court terminated Father's parental rights on the predicate grounds of endangerment, abandonment, and failure to comply with a family service plan. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(E), (N), and (O) (West Supp. 2016). The trial court further found that termination of Father's rights was in Fiona's best interest. In four issues, Father challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's findings on each predicate ground, as well as the best interest finding. Because we conclude the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support the trial court's findings that (1) Father did not comply with the family service plan, and (2) termination is in Fiona's best interest, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         A. Pretrial Proceedings

         Fiona and her siblings, R.T. ("Rebecca"), F.M.P. ("Franklin"), and J.N.T. ("Julia") have the same mother, R.L.P. ("Mother").[2] Fiona, Rebecca, Franklin, and Julia lived with Mother and C.L.M. ("Colin"), Mother's boyfriend. In November 2015, Mother and Colin went out for pizza late one night and left the four children unattended at home. Fiona was three years old and all her siblings were between the ages of one and five years old. Upon returning home, Mother and Colin found the kitchen oven overturned. When Colin lifted the oven upright, he noticed the oven was turned on and noticeably hot, so he turned it off. Colin then saw nineteen-month-old Julia laying on the floor, severely burned. The trial record is unclear, but Julia was trapped either inside, or underneath, the oven and suffered burns over eighty-five percent of her body. Julia was declared dead at the scene.

         The Department removed the three surviving children from the home due to neglectful supervision, instances of past domestic violence, and Mother's admissions that she used drugs, drove a vehicle without a license, and transported the children in a car without car seats.

         The pretrial removal affidavit lists Father's previous history with the Department. In 2012, the Department received a report of neglectful supervision noting that Mother and Father were involved in a physical altercation while Fiona and Franklin were present. Both parents completed their services, and the children were returned to them. At that time, it was alleged that Fiona and Franklin were both Father's children. Through genetic testing, Father was later determined to be Fiona's father, but not Franklin's father. Franklin's father is unknown. The pretrial removal affidavit notes that Father had no criminal history in Texas. However, at trial, the Department introduced judgments reflecting Father's convictions for assault of a family member and trespass.

         The trial court signed an order removing the children from the home and naming the Department temporary managing conservator. Following an adversary hearing, the trial court ordered Father to comply with a family service plan to obtain Fiona's return. The service plan required Father to:

• participate in a drug and alcohol assessment and complete any services that may result from the assessment;
• participate in a six to eight week parenting course;
• participate in a psychosocial assessment and complete any services that may result from the assessment;
• maintain contact with the agency and notify the caseworker of any changes to his marital, employment, or housing status immediately;
• report for random drug testing with the understanding that a refusal to test or a no-show will be viewed as an indication of drug use and counted as a positive result;
• participate in all meetings, hearings, and visits related to his child and the agency's case;
• maintain safe and stable housing; and
• obtain and maintain legal employment.

         The trial court held a status hearing during which it adopted the service plan as a court order. The plan's terms were explained to Father, including a provision that stated Father "should understand that in addition to completing the listed task, there should be an observable change in behavior that reflects ensuring that he can be a protective parent." Shortly after the trial court ordered Father to comply with the service plan, Father submitted to another drug test, which was positive for cocaine.

         Following the permanency hearing before the final order, the trial court determined that Father had not demonstrated adequate and appropriate compliance with the service plan. Father completed the psychiatric assessment and parenting classes. Father did not have permanent employment or a permanent residence.

         The ad litem's report contains information about the placement of the children. The children, including Fiona, were placed in a licensed foster home. The report notes that the children were observed laughing and playing with other children in the foster placement. The children seemed to understand that they were in alternative placement because of their sister's death. The children were reported to be healthy and safe, were comfortable in the home, and responded well to their caregivers.

         In a permanency report to the court, Fiona was described as a sweet child who has frequent tantrums. She is receiving weekly trauma therapy due to the circumstances of her sister's death.

         Before trial, Mother pleaded guilty to abandoning a child in exchange for a ...


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