Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2016-05134J
consists of Justices Christopher, Donovan, and Jewell
trial court terminated the parental rights of Mother and
Father (appellant N.R.) with respect to their daughter, Leah,
appointed the Texas Department of Family and Protective
Services (the Department) to be Leah's managing
conservator. On appeal, Father challenges the sufficiency of
the evidence to support termination. We conclude legally and
factually sufficient evidence supports the trial court's
findings that Father endangered Leah and that termination of
the parent-child relationship is in Leah's best interest.
Therefore, we affirm the trial court's judgment.
following facts come from the affidavit of Department
investigative caseworker Courtnae Milladge.
2016, the Department received a referral alleging negligent
supervision of two-year-old Leah by Mother. The reporter said
Leah had abscesses on her left breast and right leg. Mother
was said to be using drugs and was not providing Leah with a
stable living environment. Father did not live with Mother or
Leah at the time of the referral or at any time during the
Department's investigation. The reporter noted a history
of domestic violence in the relationship between Mother and
parental rights had been terminated with respect to five
other children. She relinquished her rights to four of them.
Her rights with respect to the fifth child were terminated
based on findings that Mother endangered and constructively
abandoned that child.
visited Mother and Leah at the home of Leah's maternal
grandfather, where the two had been living with the
grandfather and his roommate. Leah's wounds appeared
properly dressed and medicated. She seemed to feel fine and
be in good spirits. Mother submitted to a urinalysis a few
days later and tested negative for all drugs. However, she
had tested positive in previous cases with the Department
involving her other five children. Mother voluntarily placed
Leah with a friend, S.G., on August 4.
August 15, a hair follicle drug test revealed Mother was
positive for marijuana and cocaine. Milladge contacted S.G.
on August 29. S.G. said Mother occasionally texted her to
check on Leah but otherwise had not made real contact.
Department formally removed Leah from Mother's care on
September 21, 2016 and filed this lawsuit the same day,
attaching Milladge's affidavit to the original petition.
The trial court signed an order allowing the removal and
naming the Department as Leah's managing conservator.
Leah remained living with S.G.
Family service plan
a full adversary hearing, the trial court signed an order
requiring Father to comply with any family service plan by
the Department. The service plan would identify the goals
he needed to achieve and tasks and services he needed to
complete before Leah could be placed in his care.
goals stated in the service plan included: (1) being willing
and able to protect Leah from harm and to provide basic
necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care
for her; (2) accepting responsibility as a parent; and (3)
showing concern for Leah's future safety.
he could accomplish those goals, the Department's service
plan for Father required him to, among other things: (1)
complete a substance abuse assessment and follow the
assessor's recommendations; (2) submit to random drug
testing and test negative at all times; (3) complete a
psychosocial evaluation and follow the evaluator's
recommendations; (4) obtain and maintain suitable employment
and stable housing; and (5) attend all hearings, meetings,
and scheduled visitations with Leah.
was held in June 2017. The Department presented testimony from
caseworker Leslie Mike; Anthea Christie, the volunteer
court-appointed special advocate (CASA) who served as
Leah's guardian ad litem; and Father. The
Department's documentary evidence included Father's
service plan, drug test results, and judgments of criminal
convictions; the Department's final permanency report
filed shortly before trial; and Christie's CASA report.
Father did not call witnesses or offer evidence.
Evidence about Leah
Condition during Department's investigation
is scant evidence in the record about Leah's life before
and just after she was removed. Milladge stated in her
affidavit that Leah was too young to understand or respond to
questions. The reported abscesses on Leah's breast and
leg appeared properly dressed and medicated. Milladge said
Leah seemed to feel fine and be in good spirits.
Progress with foster family
was placed with her foster family in late January 2017, four
months after she was removed. In her CASA report, Christie
described her impressions of Leah's first meeting with
the foster family as positive, noting Leah displayed
"comfort and interaction with the family."
thrived in her foster home in the five months leading up to
trial. Christie wrote about the little girl's progress:
[Leah] has had no health issues including the eczema she had
when she entered [Department] care until the time she was
moved to her current placement. [Leah] takes no medication,
is now accustomed to a healthy diet, and weaned off of sugar.
This [guardian ad litem] had observed prior to her move she
was consuming significant amounts of sugar. She is
developmentally on target and is a good student at her
daycare. [Leah] loves going to church with the family, is
inquisitive, chatty, loves singing and dancing and likes to
help her foster mom in the kitchen.
echoed those statements in her testimony:
[Leah] is in a great placement. She's stable. She's
able to attend day care. She's well taken care of.
There's no drugs and alcohol present, and she's
thriving there. . . . They do take her to church all the
time. She is involved in bible study. For her birthday they
took her to Chuck-E-Cheese. They go to parks, and they do
several different activities with the child.
Plans for the future
and Mike both supported Leah's permanent placement with
the foster family. Her foster parents planned to adopt her.
Leah referred to her foster parents and their daughter as
"mom, " "dad, " and "sister, "
and was said to be "inseparable" from her
two-year-old foster brother. Christie wrote, "In meeting
with the family and seeing how consistently intentional they
were with [Leah], this [guardian ad litem] supports this
placement long term."
testified it was in Leah's best interest for Father's
parental rights to be terminated so the foster family could
adopt Leah. She said her opinion was based on Father's
positive drug test results, as well as his failure to
complete his services. Mike also commented on Father's
recent statements that he could not attend certain
appointments, including mandatory drug tests, because he had
to work. She said, "I'm unsure if he did get ...