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In re M.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

August 21, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF M.M., K.M., I.T., B.J., P.M., I.M., JR., J.M., AND J.N.M., CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 237th District Court Lubbock County, Texas Trial Court No. 2014-513, 191; Honorable Les Hatch, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.

          OPINION

          PATRICK A. PIRTLE JUSTICE.

         Appellant, C.M., appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her children, M.M., K.M., I.T., B.J., P.M., I.M., Jr., J.M., and J.N.M.[1] In presenting this appeal, appointed counsel has filed an Anders[2] brief in support of her motion to withdraw.

         We affirm the trial court's order terminating C.M.'s parental rights, but we defer ruling on counsel's motion to withdraw.

         Background

         Based upon an outcry from one of C.M.'s children in 2017, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services initiated an investigation and ultimately removed the children from C.M.'s care for neglectful supervision, physical neglect, and physical abuse. Prior to the removal, C.M. and her children had an extensive history with the Department dating back to 2006.[3]

         C.M. and the Department executed a family service plan with a goal of family reunification. C.M.'s caseworker reviewed the family service plan with C.M. and explained the services she needed to complete. C.M. acknowledged the requirements of the plan but she did not complete her services. She offered lack of transportation as an excuse.[4]

         At the final hearing, the Department's evidence established that C.M. had engaged in a pattern of behavior that exposed her children to domestic violence wherein the children regularly observed I.M. verbally and physically abuse their mother. The children also suffered repeated physical and emotional abuse by I.M., underwent repeated exposure to drug use (resulting in positive drug tests for several children), participated in numerous and unplanned housing changes between shelters, hotels, and apartments (creating emotional instability for the children), lived in unsanitary conditions, and were exposed to sexual behavior between their mother and I.M. At the time of the children's removal, C.M., in order to placate I.M., had failed to enroll the children in school or supply necessary medications. She also abandoned two children as runaways and misspent the disability checks of two other children by relying on them as the family's only source of income.

         Regarding the children's best interests, the Department's evidence established that the children were well placed. Many were in stable homes where the foster parents intended to adopt them. Others were placed at Boy's Ranch where they will, in all probability, remain until permanent placements can be found. Their caseworker testified that termination was in their best interests because the children would remain in environments that were safe, stable, and free of domestic violence and drug use. She testified that their basic needs were being met and the behaviors exhibited by the children that were caused by their prior home environment were significantly improving and would continue to improve with individual counseling.

         C.M.'s testimony largely corroborated the Department's evidence. She agreed she had a pattern of choosing the wrong men, there was domestic violence that occurred where they were living, and drugs were used around the children. She was constantly moving, and she had improperly used disability checks intended for her children to support her family while she was unemployed for extended periods of time. Although she candidly admitted that she had a pattern of decisions that placed her children in dangerous positions, her desire was that she be allowed to keep the children and live in a rent house she had acquired shortly before the final hearing.

         On November 5, 2018, a duly appointed and assigned associate judge entered an Order of Termination finding that termination of C.M.'s parental rights was in the children's best interests. The order found, by clear and convincing evidence, that C.M. (1) knowingly placed or knowingly allowed the children to remain in conditions or surroundings which endangered their physical or emotional well-being, (2) engaged in conduct or knowingly placed the children with persons who engaged in conduct which endangered their physical or emotional well-being, and (3) failed to comply with the provisions of a court order that specifically established the actions necessary for C.M. to obtain the return of her children. See §161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O) (West Supp. 2018).

         On February 28, 2019, the trial court held a de novo hearing at C.M.'s request. For the same reasons set forth in the initial Order of Termination, the referring court terminated C.M's parental rights to the children. A new Order of Termination was signed on March 25, 2019, and this appeal timely followed.

         Applicabl ...


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