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In re T.T.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 27, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF T.T. and A.T., Children

         From the 150th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-PA-02505 Honorable Charles E. Montemayor, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice


          Marialyn Barnard, Justice

         This is an accelerated appeal from a trial court's order terminating appellant mother's ("Mother") parental rights to her children, T.T. and A.T. In her sole issue on appeal, Mother argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court's finding that termination was in the children's best interests. We affirm the trial court's order.


         T.T. and A.T. are twin girls, who were three-months-old when the Department of Family and Protective Services ("the Department") removed them from Mother's care in December 2015. At that time, the Department received a referral from a children's hospital regarding injuries to A.T. The record reflects Mother and her then-boyfriend, who is the biological father of the children, brought A.T. to the hospital because she would not stop crying, and they were unable to determine what was wrong with her. While at the hospital, the emergency room staff reported that A.T. had a fractured clavicle and nine healing rib fractures. Neither Mother nor the children's father could explain how the injuries occurred. Based on concerns of possible physical abuse, the hospital contacted the Department. Enrico Garza, a primary investigator for the Department, was assigned to the case. Mr. Garza interviewed Mother and the children's father separately at the hospital and reported that neither parent offered any explanation for A.T.'s rib fractures. With regard to A.T.'s fractured clavicle, Mr. Garza reported the father stated he heard a "pop" sound when A.T. raised her arm while he was changing her diaper. Due to the unexplained nature of the injuries and the children's ages, the Department immediately placed the children at the Children's Shelter after they were discharged from the hospital that same evening.

         Two weeks later, A.T. was examined by pediatrician James Louis Lukefahr of the Center for Miracles ("the Center"), a facility that examines children who are suspected victims of abuse or neglect. Based on his examination, Dr. Lukefahr confirmed A.T. had sustained a fractured clavicle and nine healing rib fractures. He estimated the rib fractures were probably at least a week or two old by the time they were discovered during the emergency room exam. Moreover, he opined it was highly unlikely the fractures were accidental because a substantial amount of force would have to be applied to each of the nine ribs in order to produce the fractures. He noted that A.T. would have experienced discomfort each time she was picked up, changed, or moved. Dr. Lukefahr further opined that the "pop" sound scenario described by A.T.'s father did not reasonably explain how her clavicle was broken. Dr. Lukefahr explained that a fracture to an infant's clavicle does not inadvertently occur; rather, a substantial amount of direct pressure - most likely applied by the thumb - would have to be applied to A.T.'s clavicle in order to fracture it.

          Over the next two months, Mr. Garza met with the children's parents at their apartment in an attempt to determine how A.T.'s injuries occurred. During the course of his investigation, Mr. Garza learned Mother and the children's father had been receiving housing and financial assistance from St. PJs, a local social service agency. He also learned that both parents were unemployed and looking for work. Neither parent had transportation. Mr. Garza had an opportunity to observe two visits between the parents and the children. According to Mr. Garza, Mother was very quiet and did not interact much with the children, and the children's father spent the majority of time asking him questions regarding the criminal portion of the case. By that time, a police detective had been assigned and was conducting a criminal investigation. Throughout the course of the investigation, both parents denied doing anything to A.T. to cause her injuries. Mr. Garza ultimately closed the Department's investigation at the end of January 2016, concluding the parents neglected the children because they were unable to account for A.T.'s injuries or any discomfort she would have had from the injuries, particularly the nine fractured ribs. The children were ultimately placed with a foster family by the end of January 2016.

         In addition to assigning Mr. Garza to the case, the Department assigned a caseworker, Normal Lailson, to work with the family. Ms. Lailson drafted service plans for both parents. Pursuant to her service plan, Mother was required to complete a psychosocial and psychological assessment, a drug test, and parenting classes. She was also required to obtain employment, stable housing, and attend individual counseling. Over the next six months - from January 2016 to May 2016 - Mother attended therapy and took one parenting class, but she failed to comply with the other requirements of her service plan despite the Department's efforts to accommodate her schedule. The record reflects that in May 2016, the children's father admitted to injuring A.T. by pressing on her collarbone out of frustration.

          As the case continued, the trial court held the statutorily required status and permanency hearings, and because Mother failed to complete her service plan - specifically, she failed to obtain stable housing or show any signs of progress in her parenting skills - the matter moved to a final hearing, during which the Department sought to terminate Mother's parental rights.[1] At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony from fifteen individuals, including:

• Mr. Garza, the Department investigator initially assigned to the case;
• Melissa Francis, Jessica Burciaga, and Ms. Lailson, the Department caseworkers involved in the case;
• Angela Carrizales, a case manager working with the parents at St. PJs;
• Dr. Lukefahr, who examined A.T. after her emergency hospital visit;
• Barbara Arizpe, the children's occupational therapist;
• Robin Diamond, the children's language therapist;
• G.H., a CASA volunteer who worked with the family
• Bernadette Loftus and Anna Roquebert, who were Mother's therapists;
• Mother;
• Y.C., the children's maternal ...

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