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In re I.L.G.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

September 20, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF I.L.G., A CHILD

         On Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2016-01310J

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Jamison and Busby. (Frost, C. J, concurring).

          MAJORITY OPINION

          Martha Hill Jamison Justice

         Mother appeals the trial court's final decree terminating her parental rights and appointing the Department of Family and Protective Services as sole managing conservator of her child, Isaac.[1] On appeal, Mother challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the (1) predicate grounds under which her parental rights were terminated, (2) finding that termination was in the child's best interest, and (3) appointment of the Department as managing conservator. We affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         I. Department history

         In October 2015, the Department received a referral alleging neglectful supervision of Isaac by his 16-year-old Mother. According to the referral, police were called to the maternal grandmother's (Grandmother's) home because Grandmother's then-boyfriend was threatening Mother and Isaac with a bat and a gun. When law enforcement arrived, the boyfriend was gone, but the officers observed Mother punch Grandmother in the face multiple times. Isaac, who was three months old at the time, was in a car seat in another room at the time. Mother was arrested for assault family violence, and Isaac was left in the care of Grandmother. Grandmother reported that Mother had been "engaging in prostitution and hanging out with drug users."

         Following the referral, a Department investigator met with Grandmother and Isaac at Grandmother's residence. Grandmother stated Mother was out of control, angry, and a habitual runaway. She further discussed the incident which led to Mother's arrest and overnight stay in jail. After being released, Mother left Grandmother's residence without permission and had not returned. Isaac remained in Grandmother's care.

         Subsequently, the Department investigator spoke with Mother on the telephone. Mother acknowledged she was currently listed as a runaway. Additionally, Mother admitted to using marijuana. Approximately a week later, Mother called the Department investigator to say she was ready to return home. Grandmother was asked to pick up Mother. Grandmother stated she did not want Mother back in her home, but was informed she had no choice due to Mother's minority. The Department investigator went to Grandmother's residence, where Mother was upset and yelling. After approximately one hour, Mother was convinced to participate in Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) for anger, parenting, and counseling, and to participate in other programs deemed necessary for her to adjust to adult living.[2]

         Mother did not complete all the recommended evaluations. In January 2016, FBSS received a call from Grandmother stating Mother had left her residence with Isaac. Mother called FBSS the same day and indicated she was staying with her aunt and would forward her aunt's address; however, she did not. Soon thereafter, FBSS received a phone call from someone concerned for Isaac because Mother's aunt was "pimping her out." FBSS was provided with the name and address of a hotel and attempted to contact Mother, but she was no longer there.

         In February 2016, the Department received a new referral, alleging physical neglect of Isaac by his Mother. According to the referral, Mother had run away from home with Isaac to an unknown destination. The referral further stated that Isaac had been returned to Grandmother after a few days, but with no milk or diapers and with a runny nose. The referral stated Mother fed the child only Kool-Aid and Powerade.

         The Department investigator was unable to make contact with Mother. Grandmother had no information as to Mother's location or contact information.

         In March 2016, the Department filed its original petition for termination of the Mother's parental rights to Isaac.

         II. Trial

         Trial commenced on February 2, 2017. The following relevant evidence was admitted at trial: the return of citation; Isaac's birth certificate; search results from the Court of Continuing Jurisdiction Registry; the pretrial removal affidavit; an adversary hearing order; a status hearing order; family service plan; drug test orders and results; evaluation records; the child advocates' report; and the permanency plan and progress report.

         A. Department caseworker

         The Department caseworker testified that Isaac, who was eighteen months old, had been placed in a home where his cousins had been adopted. The placement was meeting his emotional and physical needs, and the caregivers wanted to adopt Isaac. The caseworker did not feel that it was safe to reunite Isaac with either parent.

         The case initially was referred to the Department due to neglectful supervision. Mother completed some of the recommended services initially. Mother was drug tested during this time and tested positive for marijuana. After Isaac was removed and suit was filed, Mother was ordered to complete a service plan. She tested positive for marijuana and cocaine and failed to appear for an additional twelve ordered drug tests. At the time of trial, she had not completed several portions of her service plan.

         Mother had a job at Wal-Mart. She had been visiting Isaac, and the visits were going well. Mother said she would like the child placed with her or Grandmother.

         B. Child advocate

         On behalf of Child Advocates, the child advocate recommended that Mother's parental rights be terminated because Mother had not completed her service plan or provided Isaac with a safe home. The child advocate concluded that Mother could not care for Isaac, pointing to Mother's drug use and admitted prostitution. Additionally, Isaac was bonding with his cousins in his current placement and being well cared for. The child advocate agreed that the visits between Isaac and Mother had gone well.

         C. Mother

         Mother wanted Isaac placed with Grandmother while Mother's house was being repaired due to flood damage.[3] Mother indicated she would be able to take Isaac after she got a stable home. Mother requested the court not terminate her rights and instead allow her to work towards getting Isaac home.

         Mother had been working 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart since October 2016. She felt she could provide a safe and stable home for Isaac once her home repairs were completed. Mother had recently taken a parenting course and previously undergone a psychological evaluation. Mother testified there was a communication problem with the current caseworker regarding scheduling other services.[4]

         Mother testified she had used marijuana, but had never used cocaine. Her explanation of the positive cocaine test was "probably the people I be around." Mother stated she had stopped using marijuana, but estimated using marijuana ten times since Isaac was born.

         D. Trial court's termination of parental rights

         The trial court ordered that Mother's parental rights be terminated.[5] Mother's rights were terminated under Texas Family Code section 161.001(b)(1) subsections (E) (concerning endangerment of the child) and (O) (failure to comply with a service plan).[6] The court signed a final decree memorializing its findings and appointing the Department as Isaac's sole managing conservator. In ...


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