IN THE INTEREST OF A.F.G., B.N.G., A.M.G., AND J.L.G. JR., CHILDREN IN THE INTEREST OF S.N.T.S, A CHILD
Appeal from the 247th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause Nos. 2013-57363, 2015-70032
Christopher, Donovan, and Jewell. Justices
V.I.S. (Mother), appeals two trial court final decrees
terminating her parental rights. One final decree terminates
Mother's parental rights to A.F.G. (Ana), B.N.G.
(Bonnie), A.M.G. (Andrea), and J.L.G., Jr. (Julian). The
other terminates Mother's parental rights to S.N.T.S.
(Sara). Both appoint the Department of Family and
Protective Services as sole managing conservator of the
children. Mother challenges the sufficiency of the evidence
to support the trial court's findings terminating her
parental rights and appointing the Department managing
conservator. We affirm.
Department received a referral on November 18, 2015 related
to Mother and Bonnie. Bonnie, who was seven-years-old at the
time, presented to school with a dark red bruise on her left
eye and cheek and two small bruises to the left upper eye
with shattered red dots under the left eye. Bonnie stated her
"dad, " J.G.T.(Jacob), hit her because she fell asleep
doing homework and Mother told her to say she hit her head on
Department investigator met with Bonnie and Ana, who was also
seven-years-old, at school. After meeting with the two girls
at school, the investigator went to the home to meet with the
rest of the family. Sara, who was one-year-old, was observed
crawling around the room. Sara appeared healthy and had no
visible marks or bruises.
who was four-years-old, did not respond to questions asked by
the investigator. The investigator noticed Andrea limping and
dragging her right leg. When asked about Andrea's limp,
Mother stated she was going to get her looked at by a doctor.
who was two-years-old, was in a playpen. The investigator
noticed vomit coming out of Julian's mouth. Julian did
not move or respond when the investigator spoke to him. The
investigator asked Mother to pick Julian up. Mother picked
Julian up and removed some of his clothing. The investigator
noticed that Julian was severely underweight and had a rash
on his abdomen. Mother indicated the rash was the result of a
new body wash.
in the home, the investigator observed that Andrea and Julian
were overdressed for the climate of the home. When clothing
was removed, both children were observed to be very thin.
Mother's father (Grandfather) arrived at the home while
the investigator was present. Grandfather stated he had no
concerns about the children, except their weight being low.
The investigator requested the children be taken to the
children were originally taken to Northwest Medical Center.
They were then transported to Texas Children's Hospital.
Ana and Bonnie were well-appearing and discharged into the
Department's care the same day. Andrea and Julian were
admitted to Texas Children's Hospital on November 20 and
diagnosed with severe malnutrition.
November 23, the Department was named temporary managing
conservator of Ana, Bonnie, Andrea, Julian, and Sara due to
immediate danger from physical and medical neglect. That same
day, the Department filed two petitions for termination in
suits affecting the parent-child relationship. The Department
sought termination of Mother's parental rights to Ana,
Bonnie, Andrea, and Julian in oneand sought termination of
Mother's parental rights as to Sara in
another. The Martins, the current caregivers of
Ana, Bonnie, and Sara, intervened in both lawsuits. The Lees,
the current caregivers of Andrea and Julian, intervened in
the first lawsuit.
a jury trial, a Department investigator testified about her
investigation at Texas Children's Hospital on November
20. When speaking to the investigator at the hospital, Mother
did not think anything was wrong with Andrea and Julian.
Mother stated she fed the children daily and gave Andrea and
Julian PediaSure. She stated she was a good mother and her
children are normal. A Harris County Sheriff's Officer
testified that Mother made similar statements to him about
the children being regularly fed and her being a good mother.
The Officer testified that criminal charges had been accepted
against Mother for injury to a child by omission as to Andrea
doctor who led the child abuse team also testified at trial.
The doctor testified Andrea and Julian were profoundly
emaciated children who were unable to sit up in a bed with
their own muscle control. Andrea had to be held up in a
sitting position. Further, Julian maintained a position of
permanent contracture and had a hard time straightening out
his arms and legs. For Julian to sit up, his head and neck
had to be held. Julian's hair was also shedding. Julian
weighed 16.7 pounds when admitted on November 20, while prior
medical records show he had weighed 17.6 pounds the year
before. Both Andrea's and Julian's skin was in bad
shape indicating a micronutrient deficiency.
and Julian had bruises and broken bones which the doctor
discussed. Andrea had bruising to her jaw and ear and a
broken forearm and hand. The doctor suspected the broken hand
was a defensive wound. Julian had bruising to his eyelid and
ear and a healing rib fracture. Julian's contracted
position suggested he had been in a confined space for
prolonged periods of time. Additionally, Julian had a
decubitus ulcer (bed sore) on his lower back. Neither child
had subcutaneous fat stores.
doctor stated Andrea and Julian were victims of maltreatment;
they were physically abused and starved. She testified that
no underlying medical conditions were found which might
explain their appearance. Further, she stated Mother's
history of this happening over a few months is unbelievable.
result of Mother's pending criminal charges, Mother often
invoked her right against self-incrimination during the jury
trial and did not testify during the bench trial.
Accordingly, Mother's testimony does not explain how
Andrea's and Julian's malnutrition developed.
Department called witnesses to testify regarding the
children's current placements and well-being. Ana,
Bonnie, and Sara had been placed with the Martins where they
had been living over a year. Both Ana and Bonnie participated
in psychosocial and forensic interviews and therapy related
to emotional and physical abuse. Ana and Bonnie were stated
to be good students.
and Julian were placed with the Lees where they have been
living over a year. Andrea has had therapy related to her
medical issues, a psychosocial evaluation, and therapy
related to emotional and physical abuse. Julian has
participated in physical, speech, and occupational therapy
related to his medical issues.
Department caseworker and Child Advocate testified the
children were flourishing in their current placements. The
caseworker stated the placements were meeting all of the
children's physical and emotional needs.
caseworker and Child Advocate also testified regarding
potential relative placements for the children. Mother had
submitted her mother (Grandmother) and Grandfather as
potential relative placements. The Department determined
neither was a viable option because both observed Andrea and
Julian in their emaciated state without taking action. The
Department did conduct a home study as to Grandfather and the
court denied placement with Grandfather. Additionally,
Grandmother reported to the Department that she did not think
anything was wrong with Andrea and Julian.
Martins and Lees testified about how well the children were
doing in their respective homes. The Martins and Lees planned
to adopt the children currently placed with them. Both
families also testified about efforts to keep the siblings
involved with each other's lives. Specifically, the
families testified about visiting weekly, on holidays, and
going on vacation together.
jury trial, Mother's parental rights to Ana, Bonnie,
Andrea, and Julian were terminated under Family Code sections
161.001(b)(1)(D) and (E). The trial court also found termination
of Mother's parental rights was in the best interest of
the children. The Department was appointed sole managing
conservator of the children.
a bench trial was held regarding Mother's parental rights
to Sara. At the conclusion of the bench trial, Mother's
parental rights to Sara were terminated under Family Code
sections 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), and (M). The trial court also
found termination of Mother's parental rights was in the
best interest of the child. The Department was appointed sole
managing conservator of Sara.
rights can be terminated upon proof by clear and convincing
evidence that (1) the parent has committed an act prohibited
by section 161.001(b)(1) of the Family Code; and (2)
termination is in the best interest of the child. Tex. Fam.
Code Ann. § 161.001(b)(1), (2) (West Supp. 2016); In
re J.O.A., 283 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex. 2009).
Standard of Review
termination of parental rights is a serious matter
implicating fundamental constitutional rights. Holick v.
Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985); In re
D.R.A., 374 S.W.3d 528, 531 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th
Dist.] 2012, no pet.). Although parental rights are of
constitutional magnitude, they are not absolute. In re
C.H., 89 S.W.3d 17, 26 (Tex. 2002) ("Just as it is
imperative for courts to recognize the constitutional
underpinnings of the parent-child relationship, it is also
essential that emotional and physical interests of the child
not be sacrificed merely to preserve that right.").
the severity and permanency of the termination of parental
rights, the burden of proof is heightened to the clear and
convincing evidence standard. SeeTex. Fam. Code Ann.
§ 161.001; In re J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d 256, 265-66
(Tex. 2002). "Clear and convincing evidence" means
"the measure or degree of proof that will produce in the
mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to
the truth of the allegations sought to be established."
Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.007 (West 2014); In re
J.F.C., 96 S.W.3d at 264. This heightened burden of