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In re J.T.W.P.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

May 23, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.T.W.P., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 314th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2018-02100J

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Goodman, and Kelly.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Gordon Goodman Justice.

         This is an appeal from the trial court's order terminating a mother's parental rights to her son. The trial court found that termination was warranted under Texas Family Code section 161.001(b)(1)(M) and was in the child's best interest under section 161.001(b)(2). The mother challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's finding that termination was in the child's best interest. We conclude that legally and factually sufficient evidence supports the finding and therefore affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         The mother has a history of chronic drug abuse that first came to the Department's attention in 2013, when it found reason to believe a referral of neglectful supervision of her infant son, observing that the "[m]other is a chronic drug user which place[s] the children at risk along with domestic violence."

         In the Department's investigation of a second referral in 2015, the mother admitted to using drugs and tested positive for cocaine, marijuana, benzodiazepine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine. The Department found that the mother's neglectful supervision posed an immediate danger to the child. It took the boy into custody and instituted proceedings that resulted in the termination of the mother's parental rights. The 2016 termination decree recites findings that the mother engaged in conduct which endangered the child and that she constructively abandoned him when he came into the Department's care.

         The mother also has significant criminal history. In 2004, the mother pleaded guilty to the offense of endangering a child, for which she served a six-month jail sentence. She served a 180-day jail sentence in 2012 after being convicted for forgery. She also has a 2013 conviction for marijuana possession and a 2017 conviction for theft.

         The mother gave birth to Jacob in February 2018.[1] His birth came to the Department's attention after a routine review of birth records identified him as the child of a parent who had previously lost her parental rights to another child.

         A Department investigator found the mother at her residence and spoke with her outside. The mother denied having previously lost parental rights to a child, denied any prior involvement with the Department, and denied drug use. She agreed to submit to a drug test, which yielded a positive result for methamphetamine. The mother, however, denied using methamphetamine and claimed that she did not know why the test gave that result because she had used drugs only once since Jacob's birth and had used ecstasy, not methamphetamine.

         When the investigator asked about Jacob's whereabouts, the mother initially responded that he was with her aunt, a response that was disproven when the mother's girlfriend emerged from the residence holding the child. The girlfriend volunteered that something was wrong with the mother and she needed mental health services. The investigator asked the mother about her mental health. The mother responded that she suffered from depression and anxiety, but her girlfriend indicated that the mother's condition was more serious.

         After further discussion, the mother agreed to have the investigator place Jacob in the care of a residential program for children in Houston. A few weeks later, the Department brought suit for temporary managing conservatorship of Jacob and termination of the mother's parental rights. The mother submitted to additional drug testing after the first hearing. The urine specimen she provided tested negative, but her hair specimen tested positive for cocaine and codeine.

         The mother did not appear for the next status hearing. At that hearing, the Department asked the trial court to find aggravated circumstances based on the mother's 2004 conviction for endangering a child and the termination of her parental rights to Jacob's older brother. See Tex. Fam. Code § 262.2015(b)(3)(I), (b)(5). Based on the aggravated-circumstances finding, the trial waived the requirement to provide the parent with a service plan and the requirement to make reasonable efforts to return the child to the parent. See id. § 262.2015(a). The trial court approved supervised visitation between Jacob and the mother once every two weeks. The Department offered drug testing to the mother, but the mother did not appear for it.

         In June 2018, the Department placed Jacob with the same foster parents who had adopted his biological brother. The foster mother testified that Jacob is a cheerful, happy, and mostly healthy baby. He receives speech therapy and physical therapy, and he is on the wait list to receive occupational therapy.

         The caseworker confirmed that the mother participated in supervised visits with Jacob according to the schedule. She observed, however, that Jacob does not appear to have a bond with the mother; he cried continuously during the visits and the mother was unable to console him. The caseworker explained that if Jacob cried while she was caring for him, she could calm him down, and observed that he did not cry when he was with the foster family as he did during the mother's visits. Jacob has bonded with his brother and the foster parents, who ...


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