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In the Interest of A.M.A.

December 12, 2012


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Plymouth County, Robert J. Dull, District Associate Judge.

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

A mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

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

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to four of her children. Upon our de novo review, see In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010), we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The mother has a long history with the Iowa Department of Human Services (Department), including her own childhood involvement as a victim of abuse. At issue in this case are the mother's four eldest children, born in 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009.*fn1 In 2004, it was reported the mother had failed to provide her baby adequate food and shelter. That child abuse report was not confirmed; however, the Department has pretty much been in and out of the lives of the mother and her children since.

In April 2005, it was reported the mother was using methamphetamine in front of her child. Although the mother's drug tests were negative, the child tested positive for cocaine and benzoylecgonine after being left in the care of a drug user. The Department determined the child abuse report was founded, and the mother was offered services. She agreed not to leave her son with irresponsible persons. The Department's case worker noted in the report at that time:

It was strongly recommended that [the mother] consider seeking counseling or therapy to help her deal with her issues of abusive relationships and to help her with parenting skills. According to [the mother] she has repeatedly been in abusive relationships. She was dating [the child's] father when their relationship became abusive. She then left him and married another man who also abused her. After leaving this man, she [moved to another community and became] involved in another abusive relationship. This man is currently the father of her unborn child. Yet today, [the mother] is currently living with another gentleman. . . . [The mother] has continued to make very poor decisions in regards to the safety of herself and that of her child. She continues to make excuses as to why she cannot find employment due to not being released [from] her doctor and continues to place the blame for her current situation on [the Department] not helping her when she lived with abusive parents many years ago. [The mother] more or less refuses to take responsibility for her poor choices.

[The mother] and her son . . . are very bonded to one another. She interacts appropriately with [the child] and demonstrates adequate discipline techniques when necessary.

Despite numerous other reports of child abuse over the years involving domestic violence in the home and lack of supervision of the children, and despite the offers and/or receipt of various services from her communities and the Department, the worker's above-stated assessment is essentially where the case stands today, approximately seven years later. The mother now has five children, all of whom she loves and with whom she shares a close bond. Nevertheless, the mother's case only minimally progressed over the years. As a Department's case worker explained in December 2009:

[T]he case in general . . . seems to be moving in the right direction. But, there continues to be crisis and upheaval in this case as well. It seems that the family can function OK for a few months and then a crisis occurs (or is created), which is handled, and then the family is fine for the next month or so again. The family continues to have financial concerns, [the mother's husband] is not employed at this time and needs to complete [the Batterers Education Program] classes as well. There is also a concern that [the mother] might be pregnant again, which is a concern as the family is struggling with four children right now and adding a fifth child would be hard on the family. At the last family team meeting, [the mother and her husband] were asking if this worker would make the recommendation for Court that another review be held in three months and have it set for a possible dismissal. This worker does not feel that three months would be an appropriate time frame for this family based upon the history of this case. As stated earlier, the family can maintain for a few months, but then a crisis comes forth causing disruption and confusion for the children.

Domestic violence continued in her home. By February 2010, the children were acting out more, being more aggressive, and using bad language. In May 2010, the family experienced another crisis; while in the care of a babysitter, one of the children, playing with the babysitter's lighter, set a pillow on fire causing the apartment to be severely damaged and destroying the children's belongings.

Thereafter, the mother relocated the family to a new city, and, because of their move, new caseworkers and service providers became involved in the case. The Department's new case worker noted concerns right away in the case, and by November 2010, sought removal of the children from the mother's care. The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/guardian ad litem, who had continued her services with the family, agreed with the Department, explaining the ongoing issues at that time as follows:

This [CASA] does feel [the Department] has put a significant amount of time and resources into this family in an attempt to help [the mother] provide a safe, nurturing home for the children. CASA has been assigned to the case for two years and feels the situation has rapidly deteriorated since the June [2010] Court Hearing. A child falling from an open upstairs window is an extremely serious event and should prompt immediate action by the mother to prevent it from happening again. [The youngest child's] unexplained and untreated burn on her arm, her falling from the highchair (which would not happen if she were properly secured and supervised), the children coming to school without breakfast, children not being immediately treated for a head lice problem are all threats to their physical safety. In addition, the children have not received the Court ordered therapy to address their emotional and behavioral issues. [The mother] has allowed a person with a significant criminal history, one who by her admittance is not allowed contact with his own children, to live in the home. [The mother] herself is not receiving therapy. She has allowed [her former abusive husband] contact with the children. Her attitude has changed over the past six months and she has been rude, defiant, resistant to suggestions in meetings, and uncooperative in allowing access to the home and children. CASA ...

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