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In re A.H.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

October 3, 2019


          Submitted on September 11, 2019

          On Appeal from the 410th District Court Montgomery County, Texas Trial Cause No. 18-05-06835-CV.

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger and Johnson, JJ.


          LEANNE JOHNSON Justice.

         After a bench trial, Appellant Father appeals from a judgment terminating his parental rights to his eight-year-old daughter, A.H.[1] See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1)(F), (N), (O), (2) (West Supp. 2018). Father was represented by counsel at the termination proceeding but Father did not testify. In three issues, Father challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's termination of his parental rights under Family Code sections 161.001(b)(1)(F), (N), and (O).[2] We affirm the trial court's judgment.


         CPS Investigator Tara Bauch testified that she investigated allegations of "neglectful supervision due to the fact that the mother was found deceased in the hotel room with [A.H.]" In her Affidavit in Support of Removal admitted into evidence, Bauch stated that upon her arrival to the hotel on May 25, 2018, EMS was administering CPR on A.H.'s mother. A police officer told Bauch that EMS suspected A.H.'s cause of death to be alcohol poisoning or a heart attack. According to Bauch, she spoke with A.H. and learned that she and her mother had traveled from Oklahoma to visit A.H.'s brother for his high school graduation. A.H. informed Bauch that her grandparents died and she last saw her father two years ago when he choked her mother. A.H.'s brother told Bauch that he was unaware of any living relatives on his mother's side of the family. Bauch spoke to one of A.H.'s mother's friends who provided Father's name, and the friend stated that Father was abusive towards A.H.'s mother and was likely in jail. Bauch concluded that it was in A.H.'s interest for the Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") to be named A.H.'s Temporary Managing Conservator as the Department had made reasonable efforts to prevent or alleviate the need for A.H.'s removal, A.H.'s father had not been found, her mother was deceased, and there was no information regarding relatives to contact. Bauch testified that on the day of removal, A.H. was placed in the same home as her older brother, with whom she was comfortable and had previously lived. According to Bauch, A.H. was still placed in the same home at the time of trial.

         Bauch testified that, on the Tuesday after A.H. was removed, Bauch met Father, A.H.'s paternal grandmother (R.B.), and A.H.'s paternal great grandmother, who lived in Oklahoma and wanted to take A.H. home with them. Bauch testified that she did not initially set up visitation with A.H. and Father because "the child did not want to visit because the last time she saw [Father] he was choking her mom." When asked whether any police reports or other documentation corroborated the alleged choking incident, Bauch responded that although there was no criminal history or documentation of the incident, "[t]he family has multiple CPS cases out of the State of Oklahoma, and domestic violence is a part of one of those and drug use."

         CPS Supervisor Latasha Hickman testified that she was assigned to the case "[s]ince the beginning[]" and that Father's service plan ordered Father to participate in "[s]ubstance abuse assessment, individual counseling, psychological, parenting, [and to] maintain contact with the Department." According to Hickman, the Department made attempts to contact Father, but Father did not contact the Department at any time for visitation. She explained that when the Department would attempt to contact Father, Father's mother would stop the phone calls, and the Department had not had any contact with Father in the past year. Hickman clarified that visits for A.H. and Father required a recommendation from the therapist. According to Hickman, the Department talked to the therapist about contact, but the therapist did not recommend any contact because "[t]he child doesn't want any contact with her father." Hickman testified that Father did not visit A.H. at all or provide financial support to the Department for her care during the pendency of the case. Hickman further testified that Father did not demonstrate the ability to provide a safe and stable environment for A.H. and Father did not participate in any of the court-ordered services. Hickman testified that if a parent lives out-of-state, services are provided for the parent in Texas, but if the parent does not come to Texas for services then the parent bears the cost of services.

         Hickman had no knowledge whether an acknowledgement of Father's paternity had been located, and she did not know whether A.H. lived with Father for at least two years after her birth. According to Hickman, A.H. had not asked to see her Father during the case, and to Hickman's knowledge, A.H. did not have a relationship with her Father and had not seen him for "three or four years [][, ] [p]ossibly more." Hickman testified that to her knowledge, the caseworker mailed Father a copy of the service plan, Father was aware of where A.H. was placed, and Father never asked that A.H. be placed with him. According to Hickman, Father did not contact anyone at CPS about how to set up his services.

         Hickman testified that she visited A.H. in her current placement on one occasion and that A.H. is doing well in the home with her half-brother. Hickman explained that she believed termination of Father's parental rights is in A.H.'s best interests because Father has "failed to show that he has any interest in the well[-]being and safety of [A.H., ] has not made any contact or efforts to contact the Department[, and] has not show[n] any interest in [A.H.]"

         The court-appointed special advocate (CASA) testified that she has visited with A.H. monthly since being assigned to the case in June of 2017. According to the CASA, when she first visited A.H., the child's emotional state was fragile. The CASA testified that there were no visitations between A.H. and Father or any of the grandparents during the pendency of the case. The CASA testified she had no contact with Father and tried once to call the contact number for him but "the phone number just, it rang . . . didn't receive voice mail message or anything[.]" According to the CASA, Father was present in court on June 6th and available by phone at the July 23rd status hearing. The CASA testified that Father and A.H.'s paternal grandmother did not attend the permanency conference although the CASA believed they received notice of the hearing. The CASA testified that Father's services were court-ordered at the July 23rd status hearing that Father attended by phone and that Father never filed anything to ask the court to amend his services or to ask for visitation. The CASA testified that, for as long as she has been assigned to the case, A.H. has not mentioned her paternal grandmother, and the paternal grandmother has not visited with A.H. The CASA testified that she provided Father her contact information on the day she was assigned the case and he has never contacted her.

         The CASA testified that A.H. was placed with her half-brother's family. According to the CASA, A.H.'s mother was also the half-brother's mother. The CASA testified that A.H. appeared to have a close relationship with her half-brother. According to the CASA, A.H. has been doing "really well" in her current placement over the last year, and the CASA's recommendation is for adoption of A.H. by the half-brother's family. The CASA testified that A.H. has not asked to see Father, she has no relationship with her Father, and the last time she saw Father was "three or four years ago[, ] [p]ossibly more." The CASA testified that she believed that termination of Father's parental rights is in A.H.'s best interest. The CASA indicated that Father has not met the court's requirements to get access to A.H. According to the CASA, "[A.H.] does not want to see him. She has a very traumatic memory of [Father]. . . . So, she prefers not to see him because of that." The CASA testified that at each visit with A.H., she asked A.H. if she wanted to see her paternal grandmother and she stated she did not. The CASA testified that she hopes that A.H. is adopted by her current placement family because A.H. is "very happy[]" there and is "adjusting very well."

         The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of prohibited predicate acts under Texas Family Code sections 161.001(b)(1)(F), (N), and (O), and the trial court found that termination was in the best interest of the child. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. ยง 161.001(b)(1)(F), (N), ...

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