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In re E.J.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

January 4, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF E.J., A CHILD

         On Appeal from the 310th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2016-01472J

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Massengale, and Caughey.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael Massengale Justice

         This is an appeal from a decree terminating a mother's parental rights. The mother contends that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the termination of her parental rights and the appointment of the Department of Family and Protective Services as the child's sole managing conservator. Because the evidence is sufficient to support the trial court's decree, we affirm.

         Background

         The Department of Family and Protective Services received a report alleging the mother's neglectful supervision of three children, including E.J., who was younger than two years old at the time. The mother reportedly was found outside naked, possibly having been being raped by her boyfriend and his friends. The Harris County Psychiatric Center characterized her as being in a "psychotic state." The report alleged that the mother had tested "positive for PCP and THC." It further indicated a concern that the mother had subjected her children to neglect, abuse, or substance abuse in the home and was unable to care for them in her current mental state. At the time of the report, E.J. was already under the care of his mother's adoptive mother. The Department filed a petition seeking temporary managing conservatorship of E.J. and termination of parental rights if reunification with the parents was found to be unsuitable. E.J. was placed under the Department's care.

         The Department created a family service plan for the mother, which the trial court incorporated by reference in a status-hearing order, making the service plan an order of the court. The plan included instructions on how and when she should report or provide proof of completion of or participation in each task or service. The plan also stated its purpose was to help the mother provide a safe environment for the child within the specified time, and that if the mother was unwilling or unable to provide her child with a safe environment, her parental and custodial duties may be restricted or terminated, or the child may not be returned to her. Among other things, the plan required the mother to participate in a psychosocial evaluation and follow all resulting recommendations.

         At a final permanency hearing held before trial, the mother was not present. An appointed attorney appeared on the mother's behalf and informed the court that she was in the Harris County jail. The attorney also informed the court that she had sent letters to the mother which were not returned. The Department's caseworker testified at the hearing. She stated that E.J. was approximately three years old, and that he was developmentally on target. He did not suffer from any diagnosed conditions, but he was receiving speech therapy and had completed occupational therapy. For approximately eight months, E.J. had been placed in the care of paternal relatives who were present in court and who had been approved for adoptive placement after undergoing a home study. The caseworker explained that all of E.J.'s physical and emotional needs were being met with the placement, and the Department's plan was for that family to adopt him. E.J.'s great aunt, T.M., also testified at the hearing and explained that the child had been in her care for over six months and was doing "great." She further stated that the mother had not contacted her during the pendency of the suit. At the close of the hearing, the court immediately proceeded to trial.

         At trial, the father relinquished his parental rights with respect to E.J. The Department offered eight exhibits which were admitted into evidence. These included the appearance form for the mother, E.J.'s birth certificate, the mother's family service plan, a letter certifying that E.J. had not been the subject of a prior suit affecting the parent-child relationship, and several documents related to the mother's criminal history.

         The caseworker testified again. She stated that E.J. had come into the care of the Department due to the mother's neglectful supervision of him and two of his siblings. She revealed that the mother was admitted to a hospital after being found outside, naked, in a psychotic state after possibly being raped. The caseworker stated that the child had been placed with paternal relatives for over six months, and he was doing well.

         The caseworker explained that at the onset of the case, she unsuccessfully attempted to contact the mother by telephone and mail in order to develop a family service plan. When she eventually spoke with the mother by telephone, she provided information about the family service plan and her telephone number, and invited her to meet in her office. She further testified that after the initial conversation, she reached out to the mother by phone "until the number no longer worked, " but the mother never contacted her. The mother did not complete any portion of her family service plan, and the court had entered an order that the mother could not visit the child due to her failure to submit to drug testing. The caseworker asked that the court terminate the parental rights of the mother, noting her absence in E.J.'s life, as well as the stability of his current placement.

         The trial court found that the mother had committed the predicate acts of endangerment, constructive abandonment, and failure to comply with a court order. See Tex. Fam. Code § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (N), (O). In its final decree of termination, the court also found that termination of the mother's parental rights was in the best interest of E.J. Based upon those findings, the trial court terminated the mother's parental rights to E.J. The Department was named sole managing conservator of the child.

         Analysis

         On appeal, the mother challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting termination of her parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (N), and (O). She also argues that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the finding that termination of her parental rights was in E.J.'s best interest. Finally, she argues that the evidence was legally and factually insufficient to support the trial ...


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