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In re A.N.L.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 25, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.N.L., I.N.L., A.F.J.L., W.Q.C. Jr., J. N.C., and E.D.G.C., Children

          From the 438th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-PA-00153 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice.

         L.J.L. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her six children, A.N.L., I.N.L., A.F.J.L., W.Q.C. Jr., J. N.C., and E.D.G.C. L.J.L. presents three issues challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's two predicate statutory findings and its finding that termination is in the best interest of the children. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         On January 22, 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed a petition to terminate L.J.L.'s parental rights to A.N.L., I.N.L., A.F.J.L., W.Q.C. Jr., J. N.C., and E.D.G.C. On the date the petition was filed, the children were eleven, six, five, two, sixteen months, and four months. A bench trial was held over a period of three days on July 7, 2017, September 20, 2017, and October 11, 2017.

         C.T., the lead parent educator for iParent SA, testified that iParent SA works with the Department in teaching a two-year parenting class which covers concepts like discipline and nurturing of children and protective parenting. C.T. testified L.J.L. had attended the class for approximately a year and half and would complete the curriculum in March 2018; however, upon completion of the class, L.J.L. had expressed an interest in participating in other services iParent SA had available. C.T. believed L.J.L. had a "pretty good grasp of nurturing parenting skills" and had grown in her attitude. C.T. also believed L.J.L. was ready to have her children back "with the proper reinforcements."

         On cross-examination, C.T. acknowledged L.J.L. was romantically involved with W.C., Sr., the father of the three youngest children. C.T. also acknowledged W.C., Sr. had refused to engage in any services or cooperate with the Department's investigation. From her conversations with L.J.L., C.T. believed L.J.L. would be willing to break off the relationship with W.C., Sr. if necessary to have the children returned to her. Although L.J.L. was romantically involved with W.C., Sr., C.T. did not believe W.C., Sr. was living with L.J.L. because he was not at L.J.L.'s residence when C.T. visited and none of his personal items were at the residence.

         On re-direct examination, C.T. testified L.J.L. understood the need to stay away from abusive figures but L.J.L. had not recognized W.C., Sr. as an abusive person. L.J.L. however recognized her stepfather as an abusive person and understood she needed to keep the children away from him.

         Eric Bradley, the Department's caseworker assigned to the case since March 2017, testified his main concern was L.J.L.'s relationship with W.C., Sr., who had been observed providing L.J.L. with transportation for visits with her children. Bradley described L.J.L.'s oldest daughter, I.N.L., as being "terrified" of W.C., Sr., who would punish I.N.L. for wetting the bed by flicking her in the forehead and hitting her in the stomach backhanded. W.C., Sr. refused to engage in services, including refusing to submit to drug testing. Bradley believed L.J.L. was financially dependent on W.C., Sr. who had a history of drug use and a criminal history, including arrests for assault and possession of marijuana. Bradley identified photographs from L.J.L.'s Facebook account which were admitted into evidence showing L.J.L. continued to have a romantic relationship with W.C., Sr. Although L.J.L. completed all of her service plan tasks, Bradley did not believe she completed its targeted goals because her ongoing relationship with W.C., Sr. showed she would not be protective of the children.

         L.J.L. told Bradley that her stepfather, who raped her when she was thirteen and on multiple other occasions, was the father of her oldest child. Nevertheless, L.J.L. and the children were living with L.J.L.'s mother and stepfather when the children were removed, and L.J.L. allowed her stepfather to have unsupervised access to the children. L.J.L. also reported that her stepfather had anger problems and would treat her and the children inappropriately when he was angry.

         At the time of trial, A.N.L. was placed in a residential treatment center because of his special needs, and the younger children were placed in foster-to-adopt homes. A.N.L. has issues with insomnia and anger and takes medication and receives therapy to assist him. Bradley believed it was in A.N.L.'s best interest to stay at the residential treatment center where his special needs were being addressed. A.F.J.L., W.Q.C., Jr., and J. N.C. were placed in the same foster home, and Bradley had noticed great improvements in their development and school work. The foster mom has been assisting A.F.J.L. with his dyslexia, and the children are bonded with their foster parents. I.N.L.'s self-esteem and attitude improved, and she is very happy. When I.N.L. was placed in foster care, she was in special education and is currently making all A's. Finally, E.D.G.C. is very bonded with her foster parents and is developing at a great pace. All of the foster parents were committed to adopting the children.

         Bradley admitted the children are bonded to L.J.L., but the older children have stated they do not want to be returned to their mother. Although the children are engaged with L.J.L. during visits, they are not sad when the visits end.

         Valerie Mendiola, the Department's caseworker from the children's removal until January of 2017, testified W.C., Sr. refused to engage in services but continued to have a relationship with L.J.L., including assisting her financially. Although W.C., Sr. transported L.J.L. to her visits with the children, W.C., Sr. refused to take the actions necessary for him to visit with the children. Mendiola expressed her concerns to L.J.L. about L.J.L.'s ongoing relationship with W.C., Sr. given his criminal history and ...


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