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In re I.J.S.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 18, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF I.J.S., et al., Children

          From the 57th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018-PA-01574 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice, Beth Watkins, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BETH WATKINS, JUSTICE.

         Appellant S.S. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights. She argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination is in the best interests of the children. We affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         S.S. and her former partner, A.S., are the mother and alleged father of three children: I.J.S, A.A.S., and B.J.S. In July of 2018, the Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") removed I.J.S. and B.J.S. because S.S. and A.S. had been physically violent with each other in front of the children. The Department obtained temporary managing conservatorship over all three children and placed I.J.S. and B.J.S. in a foster home. Because of an earlier, closed case involving the family, A.A.S. had been living with A.S.'s sister since she was born, and the Department kept A.A.S. in that placement in this case.

         In its petition seeking to terminate S.S.'s and A.S.'s parental rights, the Department alleged, inter alia, that termination was warranted under section 161.003 of the Texas Family Code ("the Code") because she "has a mental or emotional illness or a mental deficiency that renders [her] unable to provide for the physical, emotional, and mental needs of the children and will continue to render [her] unable to provide for the children's needs until the 18th birthday of the children." See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §161.003(a). Because the Department sought termination under section 161.003, the trial court appointed both an attorney ad litem and a guardian ad litem to represent S.S.'s interests. Id. § 161.003(b). The Department prepared a service plan for S.S., explained it to her, and went over the required services with her "[m]ultiple times." The "top three services" the Department required S.S. to complete were "[h]er mental health, domestic violence, and to receive therapy."

         The evidence presented at trial showed that S.S. had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder with anxiety, could not read or write more than her own name, and had an "extremely low" IQ. The evidence also showed that S.S. had difficulty understanding "that there are people in this world she really shouldn't be around." She had a history of romantic involvement with violent men, including A.S., and was "easily led, easily taken advantage of." At the time of trial, she was living with a man who had been convicted of aggravated assault and who had convinced her to designate his mother as the payee on her Social Security disability payments.

         A Department caseworker testified that during S.S.'s visits with the children, S.S. "ha[d] issues with knowing how to feed her children, how to interact with them separately. . . . She has to be told to change their diapers and things of that nature." The caseworker agreed that S.S. loves her children, but nevertheless testified that S.S. "is unable to care for her children on her own." She explained that S.S. repeatedly suggested unsafe or unstable individuals as potential caretakers for the children and that S.S. did not understand why those individuals would not be appropriate placements. She also noted that I.J.S. "has bad dreams before he is to attend visits" with S.S. and does not have bad dreams when there are no visits.

         S.S.'s therapist, Victoria Caylor, testified that "[i]t's really difficult for [S.S.] to understand this world that we live in" and that S.S. has trouble retaining information and will always need help with life skills like paying bills and being on time for appointments. Caylor explained that S.S. "doesn't understand the severity of what was going on in her life"-for example, S.S. told Caylor that "[i]t was fine" that the children had previously been living in a home with a roach infestation because "the cock roaches don't bite." She also testified that S.S. puts her own needs before those of the children. She noted, for example, that one of S.S.'s aunts offered to let her and the children move into the aunt's home, but S.S. refused because she did not want to follow her aunt's rules. Caylor explained that S.S.'s level of mental functioning made it difficult for her to address the reasons why the children were removed from her care and that S.S. "didn't quite understand why you can't do" things like "[l]eaving the children alone, the cock roach issue, being around inappropriate people." She concluded that S.S. did not have the ability to understand how to raise children, that it would not be safe to return the children to her, and that S.S.'s ability to provide for the children's physical, emotional, and mental needs would not improve before the children turn 18.

         S.S. testified that she tried to comply with the Department's requirement that she attend parenting and domestic violence classes, but she "couldn't understand" the classes because she is "a slow learner." She understood, however, that the purpose of the classes was "[t]o show [her] how to be a mom." She testified that she understood she could not care for the children by herself, but she also testified that she believed if she completed her service plan, she "was going to get [her] kids like on [her] own."

         The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of S.S.'s parental rights was justified under section 161.003 of the Code. It also found that termination of both S.S.'s and A.S.'s rights was warranted under sections 161.001(b)(1)(N) and (O) of the Code. Finally, it found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of S.S.'s and A.S.'s parental rights was in the children's best interests. S.S. appealed the trial court's ruling, but A.S. did not.

         Analysis

         S.S. has not challenged the predicate grounds upon which the Department relied to terminate her parental rights. Instead, she has only argued that the Department did not present legally or factually sufficient ...


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