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In re A.A.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

December 19, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.A.C., A.E.C, E.S.C. AKA E.C., JR., CHILDREN

          On Appeal from the 312th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2017-25634

          Panel consists of Justices Wise, Jewell, and Poissant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Kevin Jewell Justice

         Appellant E.C. ("Father") appeals the trial court's final decree terminating parental rights to his children A.A.C. ("Ada"), A.E.C. ("Ally"), and E.S.C. ("Eddy")[1] and appointing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (the "Department") as the children's sole managing conservator. The trial court terminated Father's parental rights on predicate grounds of endangerment, failure to complete a family service plan, abuse of a controlled substance, and criminal conduct that resulted in conviction and imprisonment for not less than two years and an inability to care for the children. See Tex. Fam. Code § 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), (O), (P) and (Q). The trial court further found that termination of Father's rights was in the children's best interest. See Tex. Fam. Code § 161.001(2). Father challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's findings on all predicate grounds and that termination is in the children's best interest. Because we conclude the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support the trial court's judgment, we affirm.

         Background

         In April 2017, J.V. ("Velma"), the children's aunt, filed a petition in suit affecting the parent-child relationship on the grounds "the child/ren's present circumstances will significantly impair (harm) the child/ren's physical health or emotional development." In the petition, Velma asked for general relief but did not request any specific form of relief regarding custody, possession, or access.

         The Department became involved when it received a referral of neglectful supervision on September 21, 2017, because K.A. ("Mother") abandoned the children, ages 5, 3 and 1, at Memorial Herman Northwest Hospital. Mother had sought treatment for nausea and alleged vomiting. After telling hospital staff that she was going to the lobby to retrieve something, Mother left the premises and never returned. After waiting at the hospital for two hours, the children were taken to a Department office. Mother was a resident of Santa Maria Hostel and seeking treatment for a methamphetamine addiction. Because Mother left the children at the hospital unsupervised, failed to arrange for their care, was being treated for drug addiction, and had not contacted the Department or sought to be reunited with the children, the Department was given temporary conservatorship of the children. At the time of this incident, Father was incarcerated.

         The Department prepared family service plans for both Father and Mother, which both signed in October 2017. In September 2018, however, the Department filed a petition for conservatorship and termination of parental rights. The court conducted a bench trial in March and June of 2019. The trial court's final order terminated Father's and Mother's parental rights to all three children.

         Trial Evidence

         The witnesses at trial were Amanda Quintero, the Department's caseworker from September 2017 until December 2018; Mario Munoz, the caseworker at the time of trial; Father, who appeared by telephone from jail; and Seth Charna, the foster father.

         The Department introduced evidence of Father's criminal history. Father was incarcerated from October to December 2016. He pled guilty to family violence assault, received deferred adjudication, and was placed under community supervision for three years. Mother was the complainant in that case and the assault occurred in the presence of or near the children. That was Father's second assault charge-in 2004, he was convicted of committing assault against a person with whom he was in a dating relationship.

         The State filed a motion to adjudicate guilt in July 2017. Among other allegations, the State asserted Father committed trespass and used cocaine, as evidenced by two drug tests in May and June of 2017. As a result, Father was again incarcerated from August to October 2017. The court granted the motion to adjudicate, signed a judgment adjudicating guilt in May 2018, and sentenced Father to two years' confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division. Father was in jail as a result of this adjudication from May 2018 through trial in this case.

         Meanwhile, in September 2017, the State charged Mother with felony possession of a controlled substance and she was released to Houston Recovery Center. The children, who were periodically in the care of Velma and "numerous" other relatives, returned to Mother's care. Less than one week later, Mother abandoned the children at the hospital. The children stayed at Kidz Harbor before placement with a paternal cousin, "Louise," but Louise never intended to be a permanent caregiver. The children were then placed with "Sally," a different paternal cousin. The family caregivers asked for the children to be removed. The Department was unable to find any other family members to care for the children. Velma was given an opportunity to have the children placed with her, on the condition that her husband pass a drug test, but the test never occurred. The Department did not place the children with Velma because of her husband's criminal history of possession of a controlled substance, and Velma removed herself as a potential relative to care for the children. Father's mother and sister were also considered. However, the paternal grandmother was on probation and the paternal aunt had an adult son who has a criminal history residing in her home. Mother did not offer any additional person with whom the children could be placed. When Quintero left the case in December 2018, the Department could not locate any family to accept placement of the children.

         In October 2017, Quintero met Mother at the jail on the same day she visited Father at the jail. Quintero reviewed with Mother and Father their respective family plans of service. Both signed their plan. When Quintero asked Father why he was incarcerated, Father said he was not certain but that he "woke up" arrested and was told it was because he committed aggravated assault.

         Quintero had several phone and text conversations with Mother. Mother said she would meet with Quintero but never did. Mother did not perform any of the tasks on her family service plan and did not visit with the children during the time Quintero was the case worker. Mother told Quintero that she would complete the plan but could not provide Quintero with an address or phone number where she could be reached after her release. Quintero provided Mother with Quintero's contact information, but Mother never contacted Quintero before he left the Department. At the time of trial, Quintero did not know Mother's whereabouts. Mother never alleviated the concerns that brought the children into care.

         Quintero testified that before Mother abandoned the children, Velma was the person caring for them, not Mother or Father. Since 2017, neither Mother or Father had cared for the children. Quintero stated that Mother left the children "in an endangering circumstance" and "endangering environment." Mother had no home of which Quintero was aware, and Quintero had no idea of Mother's whereabouts.

         In April 2018, Mother's bond was revoked because she failed to report to the program required on her bond. In October 2018, Mother pled guilty to possession of cocaine and was sentenced to nine months in the Harris County Jail. When ...


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