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In re D.W.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

November 9, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF D.W. AND M.R., CHILDREN

         FROM THE 323RD DISTRICT COURT OF TARRANT COUNTY TRIAL COURT NO. 323-103501-16

          PANEL: SUDDERTH, C.J.; GABRIEL, and PITTMAN, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          BONNIE SUDDERTH, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Appellant Mother J.R. appeals the termination of her parental rights to D.W. and M.R., her children. Appellant Father A.W. appeals the termination of his parental rights to D.W. We affirm the trial court's judgment terminating both parents' parental rights in all respects.

         Background

         D.W. and M.R., the children who are the subjects of the instant suit, are two of Mother's six children. By the time of trial in May 2017, M.R. was seven years old and D.W. was eight. Father is the biological father of D.W. M.R.'s biological father and Mother's other four children are not part of this appeal.

         I. Mother

         Mother has a history of abusing various drugs, including heroin, methamphatamine, and cocaine, and in January 2016, the Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) received a report that Mother was using drugs while her children, including D.W. and M.R., were in her care. The Department then took custody of the children in July 2016 after Mother dropped them off with a family friend, did not return for the children, and called two days later to inform the friend that she would not be coming back for the children.

         However, Mother eventually expressed a desire to have custody of D.W. and M.R., so Jessica Burciaga, the Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworker for the children, developed a service plan for Mother and explained to her the tasks assigned by the plan. Those tasks included completing a drug and alcohol assessment and following all recommendations for treatment resulting therefrom, completing a mental health assessment through MHMR, completing a psychological assessment, taking a parenting class, participating in visitation sessions with the children, obtaining suitable housing, and maintaining employment. Burciaga testified that she explained those tasks to Mother and Mother stated that she understood what was expected of her.

         Mother attempted to complete some of the tasks, but, apart from passing a single drug test, she did not complete any of them successfully. While she completed three drug and alcohol assessments, she did not complete the inpatient or outpatient treatments that were recommended as a result. She also visited MHMR to complete a mental health assessment, but, according to Burciaga, she was asked to leave the facility "due to her irate behavior and inappropriate behavior." Mother did not have significant contact with the children during the proceedings and attended only one visitation session with them. Mother did not obtain employment, nor did she secure suitable housing. Burciaga described her lifestyle as "bouncing place to place with family members and friends." And, according to Burciaga, Mother appeared at a court hearing exhibiting symptoms of extreme intoxication-swollen eyes that she could barely open and the inability to speak or explain to Burciaga what was wrong.

         Following a phone call between Burciaga, Mother, and Mother's attorney in March 2017, a new caseworker, Willie Copeland, was assigned to work with Mother. But shortly thereafter, both Copeland and Burciaga lost contact with Mother-she did not return their phone calls, and at some point, her phone number was disconnected. By the time Mother did not attend trial in May 2017, Burciaga's predominant concern had become Mother's mental health-she did not believe that Mother had made any progress toward addressing the Department's concerns about her mental health, her history of drug abuse, and her history of involvement in violent relationships.

         II. Father

         Burciaga located Father in September 2016. He was living in Kansas City, Missouri. According to Burciaga, Father told her that he had not seen D.W. since 2010, when Father and Mother had split up and D.W. was two years old. Father claimed to Burciaga that he had tried to stay in touch with D.W. by phone after their split but was rebuffed by Mother's boyfriends, who disrespected and threatened him and told him not to call back. Father had not traveled to Texas to visit D.W. since 2010, and he did not travel to Texas to attend any of the termination proceedings.

         Despite her concerns about Father's lack of a relationship or any bond with D.W. and Father's confession to her that he had allowed D.W. to stay with Mother even though he knew that Mother struggled with substance abuse and "relationship issues, " Burciaga developed a service plan for Father and they discussed it in a January 2017 phone call. Like Mother's service plan, Father was required to obtain suitable employment, participate in drug screenings, obtain and maintain stable housing, engage in counseling, participate in parent-child visitation sessions, complete a psychosocial assessment and follow any recommendations resulting therefrom, complete a psychiatric evaluation and follow any recommendations resulting therefrom, provide the Department with proof of any prescription medications he was taking, complete parenting education classes, and form and maintain a healthy and supportive network. According to Burciaga, Father said that he understood what was expected of him and agreed to work on the service plan.

         Burciaga offered to facilitate in-person or electronic visitation sessions or phone calls between D.W. and Father, but, according to Burciaga, Father declined the offer, explaining that he was "in the middle of moving" and did not want to start phone contact until he "got settled" but indicated that he wanted to come to Texas to visit in March of 2017. But Father did not come to Texas in March, nor did he explain to Burciaga why not. By the time of trial, Father was unemployed and had not completed any other task assigned by his service plan. Burciaga testified that, in a phone call shortly before trial, Father again blamed his failure to complete the service plan on the moving process, although he never told her where he moved to. Based on this phone call, Burciaga concluded that Father had not demonstrated that he had a suitable place for D.W. to live if he were to be given custody.

         When Burciaga spoke to Father on the phone the day before trial, she explained that the Department was recommending his parental rights be terminated. According to her, Father simply replied, "[O]h, " and did not seem concerned. He did not attend trial.

         III. The ...


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