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In the Interest of N.H.

December 12, 2012

IN THE INTEREST OF N.H., MINOR CHILD, E.H., FATHER, APPELLANT,
S.Z., MOTHER, APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas J. Straka, Associate Juvenile Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.

A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights.

AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2011). The mother argues the State failed to present clear and convincing evidence of grounds for termination, and asserts termination is not in the child's best interests. The father concedes grounds for termination, but contends termination is not in the child's best interests, and requests additional time for reunification. We affirm on both appeals.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

N.H. was born in January 2012 at thirty-six weeks gestation with multiple, significant congenital abnormalities, including serious heart defects and a rare chromosomal disorder. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) staff diagnosed N.H. with global hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy-brain damage resulting from a lack of oxygen. N.H.'s condition required the use of an oximeter to monitor oxygen saturation levels. As a result of N.H.'s complex medical condition and young gestational age, UIHC admitted N.H. to the neonatal intensive care unit. UIHC staff opined N.H. has an eighty percent increased risk for developing seizures. N.H. is also at risk for developmental issues with cognition, motor skills, and behavior.

N.H.'s neonatologist informed the parents that their ability to meet N.H.'s complex medical needs was dependent on their ability to assess their child's health status accurately and recognize when medical attention is needed. UIHC documented concerns about the parents' ability to meet N.H.'s special medical needs. UIHC nursing staff noted the mother had significant difficulty learning discharge procedures, and reported a lack of reliability in performing tasks such as taking the child's temperature, changing diapers, and burping the child after feedings. Nursing staff reported concerns about the father's cognitive functioning in addition to anger management issues.

The mother's general cognitive ability is within the borderline of intellectual functioning, scoring in the fourth percentile on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale relative to the general population. A 2009 psychological report indicates the mother has severe abandonment issues and was diagnosed with attachment disorder of early childhood, dysthymia, and evolving personality disorder with mixed depression, dependent, avoidant, and undersocialized procedures. The mother has three other children. The mother's parental rights to her two oldest children were terminated, although the mother could not verbalize the circumstances leading to termination. The mother maintains a part-time job and lives with the father and their two-year-old son in a one-bedroom apartment.

The father is currently unemployed, but occasionally works at West Dubuque Tap. He reported that he completed his education to the eleventh grade and is unable to read or write. UIHC staff recorded concerns about the father's temper when confronted about providing care to N.H. and about his heavy smoking habits in light of the child's fragile heart condition.

On February 10, 2012, a hospital social worker met with the parents to discuss concerns about the parents' ability to care for N.H. independently. The social worker informed the parents that she had contacted the Department of Human Services (DHS), and UIHC did not plan to discharge the child to the parents' care. At that time, the parents returned to Dubuque and were not present at the time of the child's discharge on February 21, 2012.

On February 14, 2012, the juvenile court entered an ex parte temporary removal order placing custody with DHS for the purposes of family foster care placement. The juvenile court held an uncontested removal hearing on February 24, 2012, and entered an order continuing custody with DHS for foster care placement.

On March 20, 2012, the parents had a family team meeting with several service providers. When the team talked to the father about concerns, the father became physically angry, rolled up a planner, and began smacking it against the table near the child's head. The father then left the meeting to smoke a cigarette. Upon his return to the meeting room twenty minutes later, the father did not rejoin the group and refused to participate any further.

On March 30, 2012, the juvenile court held an uncontested adjudication hearing. Pursuant to an agreement, the court adjudicated N.H. a child in need of assistance ...


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