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In re N.A.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 19, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF N.A.C. JR., J.A.C., and M.I.C., Children

         From the 131st Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016PA00803 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice, Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice, Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.



         This is an accelerated appeal from the trial court's order terminating appellant's parental rights to her three children, N.A.C., Jr., J.A.C., and M.I.C.[1] In a single issue, appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the trial court's finding that termination of her parental rights was in the children's best interest. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(2) (West Supp. 2016). We affirm.[2]


         On April 19, 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the "Department") filed a petition to terminate appellant's parental rights to her three children. On February 24, 2017, the trial court held a one-day bench trial on the merits of the case. Although appellant appeared with counsel at the preliminary hearings, she did not appear at the termination trial. The State called the only witnesses who testified.

         The Department's investigator assigned to the case, Jennette Salazar, testified the Department's first referral occurred on January 29, 2016, when law enforcement found N.A.C. on the streets. Because no one had reported N.A.C. as missing, the Department eventually identified N.A.C.'s parents based on their prior history with the Department on allegations of domestic violence between the parents and of drug use by appellant and her sister (the maternal aunt). After N.A.C. was found on the street and the parents were identified, Salazar initially made contact with the maternal aunt. Aware of the past drug allegations, Salazar asked the maternal aunt about marks the aunt had on her hand. The aunt said she had been in an accident. However, the aunt agreed to a drug test, which later came back positive for methamphetamines and heroin. When appellant arrived, looking nervous and upset, she told Salazar she had been looking for N.A.C., she had contacted the police, and when the police told her N.A.C. was at a shelter, she decided not to report him missing. At this time, appellant, her three children, and the maternal aunt lived together. Salazar said that after appellant's drug test came back positive for methamphetamines, the Department implemented a safety plan with the maternal grandmother, who agreed to temporarily supervise appellant.

         Another referral, on February 9, 2016, alleged N.A.C. had taken a syringe containing a liquid to his school. N.A.C. told school personnel the syringe belonged to his maternal aunt. N.A.C. reenacted how his aunt would inject herself in her hand, leg, and under arm every day. He also said his father smoked something through a shirt. Another drug test on appellant came back positive for methamphetamines. Based on this referral, the Department required the maternal aunt to move out of the house, and required the maternal grandmother to supervise appellant at appellant's house. When the maternal grandmother moved into appellant's house, Salazar visited the house and discovered some trash around the rooms, and there was no food because the refrigerator was not working. There were no beds for all the children; instead, the house had one queen size bed.

         On February 17, 2016, after continued concerns about appellant's drug use while caring for her children and because the maternal grandmother may not have been aware of the drug use, the Department implemented a parental-child safety placement with Barbie C., the children's paternal aunt, [3] and allowed appellant to have supervised visits with her children. The Department also allowed appellant to engage in services through Family Based Safety Services.

         On April 9, 2016, Barbie C. took N.A.C. to Clarity Child Guidance Center because he displayed suicidal ideations and was having outbursts at school. A child therapist who treated N.A.C. told Salazar the relationship between appellant and Barbie C. was negatively affecting N.A.C. On April 19, 2016, the Department filed its petition for termination of parental rights. Salazar explained that by this time, Barbie C. was not receiving child support from appellant, Barbie C. refused to continue as the parental-child safety placement because of disagreements with appellant, and appellant could not provide another appropriate caregiver.

         In addition to drug use, Salazar said the Department also was concerned about the parent's "instability" because the father was homeless, appellant did not have a job, appellant sustained herself and her children with the children's Social Security income, and appellant was having difficulty finding a new place to live. Salazar said appellant indicated her concern about drug addicts around the house.

         Salazar stated she also had medical concerns about the children. She said J.A.C. suffered from severe hearing loss and speech delay because appellant failed to take him to a doctor for an ear problem, [4] and he had missed about four appointments with his ear doctor before the Department became involved. M.I.C. was not fully immunized.

         Helen Bennett-Lopez, director for an outpatient substance abuse treatment program, testified appellant was admitted to the program in mid-July 2016 for twelve weeks of services. Appellant's treatment plan called for appellant to be reunified with her children, and included obtaining employment, securing independent living accommodations, refraining from illegal drug use, and complying with other Department requirements. Appellant was unsuccessfully discharged from the program on December 27, 2016, due to noncompliance with attendance requirements. Bennett-Lopez said appellant missed ten of her thirteen scheduled appointments. Bennett-Lopez did not believe appellant took her services seriously, and she thought there was more drug usage than appellant was willing to admit.

         Elena Silverman, the Department caseworker, testified appellant completed a parenting class and a psychological evaluation, but no other services. During the pendency of the case, appellant tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine. Silverman said appellant initially tested negative for drugs and consistently stayed in contact with the Department and visited with her children. However, starting in either August or September, appellant began to miss her outpatient substance abuse appointments, and missed or came very late to her weekly visits with her children. When Silverman discussed the positive drug test results with appellant, appellant told her the results belonged to someone else. Because of her inconsistent visits, the children began to display "significant behavioral issues." Silverman explained N.A.C. would become upset, perform poorly ...

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