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In re I.V.H.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

September 26, 2019


          On Appeal from the 328th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 17-DCV-245784

          Panel consists of Justices Lloyd, Goodman, and Landau.


          Gordon Goodman Justice

         The mother and father appeal the trial court's decree terminating their parental rights to their daughter, Iris. They contend that the evidence is insufficient to support (1) the predicate grounds for termination found by the trial court as well as its findings that (2) termination is in the child's best interest and (3) the Department made reasonable efforts to identify and evaluate relatives who could provide Iris with a safe environment. The parents also contend that the trial court erred in striking Iris's paternal grandmother's motion in intervention. We affirm.


         The mother and father were both 21 years old at the time of trial. They had been removed from their birth families in childhood. The mother grew up in an adoptive home; the father was raised by a foster mother who later adopted him.

         Iris is the father's first child and the mother's third. The mother quit high school in the ninth grade when she became pregnant with her first child. That child, who was four years old at the time of trial, lives with his maternal grandmother, who obtained custody of him shortly after Iris was born. The mother's second child, born two years later, tested positive for marijuana at birth. He does not live with the mother either; his paternal grandparents care for him.

         Circumstances leading to DFPS involvement

         In August 2017, the maternal grandmother contacted the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) with allegations that the parents were using crack cocaine. The mother, who was seven months' pregnant, was referred to Family-Based Safety Services (FBSS) after testing positive for marijuana. In FBSS, the parents agreed to participate in individual counseling and substance-abuse counseling. The caseworker arranged for them to participate in these services, but neither did so.

         Iris was born in October 2017. Like the mother's second child, she tested positive for marijuana at birth. The mother admitted to smoking marijuana daily and to using marijuana during her second and third pregnancies. She also admitted to using MDMA while pregnant with Iris.

         When Iris was born, the parents were living with the paternal grandmother in her three-bedroom home. Under the FBSS safety plan, the paternal grandmother was charged with supervising Iris when she was with her parents.

         A childhood friend of the mother and his girlfriend also were living in the paternal grandmother's home at that time. The DFPS worker learned that police were surveilling the friend on the suspicion that he was dealing drugs out of the home. The police planned and executed a raid on the paternal grandmother's home about two weeks after Iris's birth, in early November 2017. In addition to the drugs found in the friend's possession, small amounts of marijuana and alprazolam were found in the parents' bedroom. The police arrested the parents, their friend, and his girlfriend on charges of drug possession. The father pleaded no contest to two charges of possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to 17 days in jail.

         In the aftermath of the raid, the DFPS took custody of Iris. The next day, the trial court approved emergency temporary managing conservatorship and the DFPS placed Iris in a foster home, where she has lived ever since.

         Family service plans

         The trial court incorporated the parents' family service plans into a December 2017 order. The family service plans required the parents to successfully complete parenting and anger-management classes, drug counseling, psychosocial-psychological evaluation, therapy, and drug testing. In addition, the parents were to have twice-weekly visits with Iris and demonstrate that they were able to maintain stable employment and a safe and stable home. The trial court also ordered the father to submit to paternity testing, which confirmed that he is Iris's father.

         Pursuant to the family service plans, the parents appeared and submitted urine samples for random drug screens in December 2017 and January 2018. The results of both those screens were negative for illegal drugs. The parents failed to appear for drug screens scheduled in February and March 2018. They submitted to two hair-follicle drug tests during the proceeding, testing positive for marijuana and cocaine both times.

         In April 2018, the trial court signed orders requiring the parents to submit hair-follicle and urine samples for drug screening, but they did not appear for testing. According to the guardian ad litem assigned to the case, the parents stopped responding to her texts and made no further contact with the ad litem.

         The parents' psychological evaluations show that both have extensive histories of drug abuse. The mother started using drugs when she was 15, including marijuana, synthetic marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and alprazolam. The father admitted that he is a drug addict. Since the age of 13, he has had numerous stints in rehab and has spent time in juvenile detention. The psychologist who evaluated the father reported that the father admitted to having used marijuana, synthetic marijuana, LSD, MDMA, cocaine, Ambien, alprazolam, hydrocodone, and methamphetamine. The father also reported having been arrested nine times and had a pending theft charge. He admitted to having committed the theft and told the trial court that he was trying to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanor.

         Both parents also have been treated for mental illness. The mother has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has received both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care in the past. The evaluating psychologist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cannabis-abuse, cocaine-abuse, and alprazolam-abuse disorders. The psychologist referred the mother for a psychiatric evaluation, but she did not submit to one.

         The father reported having previously been diagnosed with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and PTSD. The father has received inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care for these conditions. He has been prescribed various psychotropic medications in the past but ...

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