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In re T.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 16, 2019


          On Appeal from the 304th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. JC-17-00829-W

          Before Justices Bridges, Partida-Kipness, and Carlyle.



         Mother challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's conclusion that terminating her parental rights to four of her six children was in the children's best interests; she also contends the trial court erred by ordering injunctive relief. We affirm and, because the issues are settled in law, issue this memorandum opinion. See Tex. R. App. P. 47.4.

         I. Background

         The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the Department) first became involved with Mother in 2014, after her child, J.L.D., tested positive for barbiturates and cocaine at birth. At the time, Mother admitted using hydrocodone and marijuana during her pregnancy. In June 2017, the Department again was contacted when W.M.'s meconium tested positive for cocaine shortly after birth. Mother contended she had not used cocaine in the last five years, but her hair tested positive for the drug and she later admitted using cocaine as late as January 2017.

         While Mother's drug test was pending, the Department temporarily placed the children with Mother's relatives-first with her grandmother and then with her aunt, L.M. In August 2017, the Department removed the children from L.M.'s care, and the Department filed its Original Petition for Protection of a Child, Conservatorship, and Termination in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. The petition involved each of Mother's six children-T.C., Jr.; A.C.; K.M.; J.L.D.; K.P.J., Jr.; and W.M. At the time of the removal, K.M. was found with first- and second-degree burns on his stomach. Although the burns resulted from an accident, [1] Mother was alleged to have been negligent in not seeking medical treatment.

         In September 2017, the trial court entered a temporary order appointing the Department as managing conservators for the children and requiring Mother to complete parenting classes, a psychological evaluation, counseling, a drug-and-alcohol assessment, and drug testing. A few months later, the trial court conducted a contested hearing on the issue of placement. Despite an unfavorable home study, the trial court temporarily placed five children with L.M. K.P.J., Jr. remained with his paternal grandmother, K.J.

         But in March 2018, the Department filed an emergency motion seeking to have the children removed from L.M.'s care after concerns arose about the children's welfare following numerous home visits. The court granted the Department's motion and ordered the children's removal.

         In February 2019, the trial court held a permanent placement hearing. Before the hearing, Mother reached an agreement with K.M.'s father and paternal grandmother, which the court adopted. Under the agreement, Mother's parental rights to K.M. were not terminated, but the paternal grandmother was named managing conservator, and both Mother and father were named possessory conservators with access to supervised visitation. As to the placement of the other children, the court received evidence and arguments presented by the Department, Mother, some of the fathers, and other interested parties.

         Evidence Concerning Mother

         Department caseworker Yesenia Sanchez testified Mother did not complete her court-ordered counseling, and Mother's hair strands consistently tested positive for cocaine throughout the entirety of the case. Sanchez described Mother as "unstable," and recounted how Mother allegedly assaulted her in March 2018 as she and another caseworker were removing the children from L.M.'s care. Sanchez described how Mother swung at her multiple times and hit her in the back in front of five of the children. In addition, as the caseworkers were leaving with the children in their cars, a caseworker's car was rear-ended by the car in which Mother arrived at the scene.[2]Sanchez further testified Mother threatened her life in text messages and made threatening phone calls to her. Sanchez did not see any improvement in Mother's stability as the case progressed.

         Rose Obaze is a licensed professional counselor and chemical-dependency counselor who met with Mother. She testified that although Mother initially attended court-ordered counseling sessions, she abandoned the process before it was completed. Obaze believed Mother required inpatient treatment for both substance-abuse and mental-health issues. She further testified that, although she believed Mother genuinely loved her children and wanted what was best for them, "at this time because she's impaired both mental health-wise and substance abuse - with her substance abuse struggles she's not capable of making a decision of taking care of the kids." Obaze's Closure Summary Report, which was admitted into evidence, stated that until Mother's mental-health and drug-abuse issues are "addressed in a specialized environment, [her] dual diagnosis will continue to impair her ability to make appropriate choices, ensure the safety and security of her children, and provide a stable home environment."

         A number of the children's foster caregivers also provided testimony concerning Mother. F.W. (A.C. and T.C., Jr.'s paternal grandmother) testified Mother's behavior was erratic. Sometimes her interactions with Mother were "real good." Other times, Mother would threaten her. F.W. did not believe Mother would carry out those threats, but she recalled Mother once said "[s]he was gon' kill herself and her kids." F.W. did not think Mother was "a bad person; it just depends on her days." She added that, when Mother was having a good day, she was comfortable allowing Mother to supervise the children under certain conditions.

         S.W. (J.L.D.'s foster caregiver) testified that when she first started caring for J.L.D., it was because she assumed J.L.D. was the child of a man she was dating at the time. She said that they initially would take care of J.L.D. on weekends only, "but then [Mother] was showing neglect toward her so we end[ed] up taking her in and taking care of her." She said that at one point Mother "went off" on her and told her she wished S.W. and her other child would die.

         K.J. (K.P.J., Jr.'s paternal grandmother) testified she did not have any poor interactions with Mother but admitted her contacts with Mother were very limited.

         Among those who testified favorably for Mother was C.K., a long-time family friend.[3] She testified she did not understand why the proceedings were necessary. She felt the kids were being cared for, and she had no reason to believe the kids needed to be supervised when they were with Mother. She stated that, although Mother made some "bad choices," she loved her kids. When asked to elaborate about Mother's "bad choices," she explained she was referring to the testimony she heard in court (presumably about Mother testing positive for drugs). But she did not fault or judge Mother, noting that "[w]e all make mistakes."

         L.M., Mother's aunt, testified she felt Mother was "a good mom." Although Mother made an unspecified "mistake," she believed "everyone deserves a chance, and [Mother is] working on it." She said Mother loves and spoils her children. And she believed once Mother gets "herself together she's a good mother." When asked what she believed Mother "needs to get together," the aunt replied: "Her attitude for one thing. She need to work on that." But L.M. felt Mother's attitude likely was caused by the toll the Department's case was taking on her.

         Mother testified she suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. She believes these conditions cause her to act with anger and volatility at times. She said she last used cocaine in January 2017, and she could not explain either why her hair strands continued to test positive for the drug or why the highest levels were detected in December 2018. She explained she had heard that a "hair strand test go back years." She said she completed drug treatment, [4]completed her counseling, [5] completed a psychological evaluation, and did not know why the Department wanted to keep her away from her kids. She believed the kids would be safe with her.

         Mother acknowledged she needs to "get [her]self together." To do that, she planned to continue working at her job, go to drug rehab, continue utilizing services for her "incarceration management," and do everything in her power to take care of her kids. She was committed to getting a high-school diploma or GED, and when asked how long she would need to get herself together, Mother said one month. Mother did not believe termination was in the best interest of any of her children.

         Mother's March 2018 psychological assessment was admitted into evidence. She reported to the examiner that she suffers from hallucinations and suicidal ideations, and she stated she hears voices telling her someone is out to get her. She described a recent visual hallucination where she saw a cigarette turn into a light stick, which "really freaked [her] out." Mother reported that, although she was taking medication to treat her bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, her symptoms were getting worse. Nevertheless, she stated she would never harm or kill herself, because her children are too important to her. Mother admitted to using cocaine before the birth of J.L.D. and K.M., but she asserted she was drug free at the time of the evaluation.

         According to the assessment, Mother's answers to the "Child Abuse Potential Inventory" questionnaire-a screening tool used to assess the risk of physical child abuse-indicated elevated scores on each of the questionnaire's risk-assessment scales. Of particular note, Mother's elevated "Abuse Scale score indicat[es] she has characteristics similar to known, active physical child abusers."

         The examiner provisionally diagnosed Mother with: (1) "Child Neglect, Confirmed, Subsequent Encounter"; (2) "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Provisional)"; (3) "Schizoaffective Disorder (Provisional)"; (4) "Cocaine Use Disorder, Mild, In Remission by Client Report"; and (5) "Cannabis Use Disorder, Mild, In Remission by Client Report." The examiner estimated that Mother's capacity and ability to make decisions in the best interests of her children was "moderately impaired."

         Evidence Directed at the ...

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