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In re S.R.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

September 26, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF S.R., A CHILD

          On Appeal from the 108th District Court Potter County, Texas Trial Court No. 90, 882-E-FM, Honorable Douglas R. Woodburn, Presiding

          Before CAMPBELL and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          James T. Campbell, Justice

         The mother of S.R. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to the child.[1] She argues the trial court erred in refusing to grant an extension of time pursuant to section 263.401(b) of the Family Code and argues the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination was in the child's best interest. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         Appellee, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, became involved with the family in late October 2017 when it received a report stating police were called to the home of the mother and her boyfriend following a fight while S.R. was present. The mother admitted to police she used methamphetamine and, according to the responding officer, the mother "appeared to be coming down from her high." The mother said her boyfriend uses methamphetamine and drinks excessively. The mother and the boyfriend were arrested for local warrants and booked into the Randall County Detention Center. S.R. was left with a fictive kin aunt. He was later moved to foster care where he remained at the time of the final hearing.

         The Department filed pleadings including an Original Petition for Protection of a Child, for Conservatorship, and in the Alternative, for Termination in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship a week after it removed S.R. from his mother's care. The Department then developed a service plan for the mother. According to that plan, the mother was required to: abstain from the use of illegal drugs; submit to random drug screens; obtain stable housing and employment; participate in and complete parenting classes; participate in a substance abuse assessment with Outreach, Screening, Assessment, and Referral (OSAR) and follow recommendations; complete a psychological evaluation; attend domestic violence classes; attend individual counseling; and attend visits with S.R. A final hearing was held in early November 2018 at which a Department caseworker and the mother testified.

         The mother was thirty-three years old at the time of the final hearing. S.R. was three. S.R.'s father was no longer involved with the family and the mother was dating another man.

         Both the mother and the caseworker testified the mother used methamphetamine in September 2018 and a "couple of weeks" before the final hearing. The mother told the court she began using methamphetamine when she was twenty-one years old but said, "I wouldn't say I was a complete drug addict." She said she "smoked a little bit, " her use was not an "everyday thing, " and that she was "not a drug user. I didn't use it everyday (sic)." She did admit to a positive drug screen in January 2018 but said that "doesn't mean I was using at that time." But, when asked at the final hearing, the mother said she had a substance abuse issue "in a way" and asked for help. Following several missed visits, the mother's visits with S.R. were suspended in May 2018, pending the mother's submission of a drug screen. The mother did not appear for that screening and visits with S.R. did not resume.

         The mother and the caseworker also testified to the mother's failure to secure employment and stable housing. The mother told the court she was not employed but "might be getting hired by the Burger King . . . ." She also admitted she did not have her own place to live, instead living with her ex-boyfriend's relatives. The caseworker testified the mother had moved around, staying with different people in different places. Both witnesses also testified to the service plan, its requirements, and the requirements completed and not completed by the mother.

         The trial court terminated the mother's rights on the grounds of endangering conditions, endangering conduct, and failure to comply with a court order that established actions necessary to retain custody of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O) (West Supp. 2017). The trial court also found that termination was in the best interest of S.R. Tex. Fam. Code. Ann. § 161.001(b)(2) (West Supp. 2017). After a de novo hearing, the referring court affirmed and adopted the order of the trial court.

         Analysis

         Applicable Law and Standards of Review

         A parent's right to the "companionship, care, custody and management" of her child is a constitutional interest "far more precious than any property right." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 758-59 (1982); see In re M.S., 115 S.W.3d 534, 547 (Tex. 2003). Accordingly, we strictly scrutinize termination proceedings and strictly construe the involuntary termination statutes in favor of the parent. Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). However, "the rights of natural parents are not absolute" and "[t]he rights of parenthood are accorded only to those fit to accept the accompanying responsibilities." In re A.V., 113 S.W.3d 355, 361 (Tex. 2003) (citing In the ...


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