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In re S.F.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

June 7, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF S.F., A CHILD

          Submitted: May 24, 2017

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 Gregg County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-244-CCL1

          Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ralph K. Burgess Justice

         On February 6, 2016, Leslie's infant daughter, Samantha, was removed from her care under the emergency provisions of the Texas Family Code.[1] See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 262.104 (West Supp. 2016). In a bench trial, the County Court at Law No. 1 of Gregg County found that grounds existed to terminate the parental rights of Leslie and the child's father, Otto, and entered an order terminating Leslie's and Otto's parental rights to Samantha. Only Otto appeals the trial court's order terminating his parental rights.

         On appeal, Otto contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's findings that grounds for the termination of his rights existed under grounds (D), (E), (N), or (O) of Section 161.001(b)(1) of the Texas Family Code. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (N), (O) (West Supp. 2016).[2] Otto also contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination was in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(2) (West Supp. 2016). We affirm the trial court's judgment because we find (1) that the trial court's unchallenged finding under ground (P) supports termination of Otto's parental rights and (2) that sufficient evidence supports the trial court's finding that termination of Otto's parental rights was in the best interest of the child.

         I. Evidence at Trial

         The evidence showed that Leslie's and Otto's first child, Kenny, had been placed in the care of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) while Leslie was pregnant with Samantha. Jessica Galindo, an investigator for Child Protective Services (CPS), which is a division of the Department, testified that Leslie had continued to use marihuana and cocaine during the pendency of Kenny's case and had several positive drug tests, including a positive test one month before Samantha's birth. In addition, Galindo testified that during the investigation, Leslie lied about being employed, represented that she had completed her services in Kenny's case when she had not, and initially lied about living with her aunt, who was not considered a protective placement by the Department. As a result, Samantha was removed from Leslie's care on February 6, 2016.

         Galindo also testified that the medical records showed that Otto was present at Samantha's birth and that Otto was at the hearing where his service plan was outlined. She stated that she talked with Otto after that hearing and explained that he had not completed his service plan in Kenny's case and that he would be given the opportunity to complete a service plan in Samantha's case. She told him that if he was willing to make some changes in his life and provide a safe environment for the children, he should be able to have his children returned. Galindo testified that Otto assured her that he was changing his life and that he would be able to work his service plan.

         Dionne Jordan, a caseworker for the Department, testified that the main concern with Otto was with his history with illegal drugs. Although he would not admit to using them, she said that he admitted to manufacturing illegal drugs to support his children and himself. The Department was also concerned about Otto's incarcerations because he would be unable to provide for his child physically, financially, and emotionally. Jordan testified that she had an appointment with Otto on March 8, 2016, to go over his service plan, but that Otto did not come. He also left her a voicemail in April saying that he was going to complete a treatment program called Beginnings, but she did not hear anything else from him. She also testified that every time she called him, she left voice messages, but he never returned her telephone calls.

         Jordan also testified that completion of Beginnings was one of the requirements of Otto's service plan. He was also required to take parenting classes, have individual counseling, take random drug tests, obtain employment, and provide a safe and stable home. Jordan stated that although he could have begun and completed most of these requirements before his arrest on May 6, 2016, Otto did not do any of them. She also testified that Otto had not regularly visited or maintained contact with Samantha since she had been in the care of the Department.

         Jordan said that Otto expressed no interest in seeing Samantha before his incarceration and that he had not attended any visitations with her. She stated that Otto was aware of the terms of his service plan, but had not complied with any of the terms. She was also aware that Otto had admitted to using illegal substances during the pendency of the case. To her knowledge, Otto had not completed any type of substance abuse program. Jordan testified that Otto had not shown he could provide a safe environment for Samantha.

         Jordan went on to testify that in her opinion, children who are in unstable environments develop insecurities, as well as emotional and behavioral problems. After Samantha was removed a few weeks after birth, she was eventually placed with Kathleen, Leslie's maternal cousin. Jordan testified that in looking for a placement, the Department looks for stability in the home, whether the caregiver is employed and for how long, and whether they are taking care of themselves. She said that Kathleen initially agreed to the placement to help Leslie, but eventually expressed that she wanted to adopt Samantha. Jordan testified that the Department believes it is in Samantha's best interest to terminate the rights of her parents and for Kathleen to adopt her.

         Kathleen testified that she is Leslie's second cousin and that by the time of trial, Samantha had been in her care for ten months. She stated that Samantha was one year old, was running, and was doing great. She said that she has a mother-daughter relationship with Samantha and that Samantha looks at Kathleen's children as her brother and sister. She said that Samantha loves her twelve-year-old daughter and is always on her hip. Samantha fights with her ten-year-old son, ...


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