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In the Interest of K.O.

January 9, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF K.O., MINOR CHILD, F.A., MOTHER, APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt, District Associate Judge.

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

A great-grandmother challenges the juvenile court's order declining to reunify her with the child she adopted. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.

At the age of five, K.O. was adopted by her great-grandmother, Frances. Four years later, the juvenile court adjudicated K.O. as a child in need of assistance (CINA) because Frances had physically abused her. The court removed K.O. from Frances's home and placed the child with her biological grandmother, Katrina.

On October 1, 2012, the juvenile court held a permanency hearing at which the Department of Human Services (DHS) case worker recommended reunification between K.O. and Frances. The juvenile court rejected the DHS plan and ordered that permanency be established with K.O.'s grandmother Katrina. Frances challenges that order on appeal.

In our de novo review, we find K.O. should be returned to her adoptive home. We do not find convincing evidence in the record to support the juvenile court's determination that K.O. faces a risk of physical abuse if returned to Frances's custody.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

K.O. was born in November 2002. Her biological parents voluntarily consented to her adoption by Frances, her great-grandmother, in October 2007.

On October 7, 2011, K.O. arrived at her Des Moines elementary school with bruising and redness on her arms and back. She told her third-grade teacher that Frances, her adoptive mother, "smacked" her repeatedly because she did not gather up her socks and get dressed for school fast enough. K.O. reported that morning was not the first time that Frances had hit her.

The juvenile court approved the DHS application to remove K.O. from Frances's home. The court adjudicated K.O. as a CINA on November 16, 2011. The DHS placed K.O. with her biological grandmother Katrina and her grandmother's husband.

K.O. started weekly therapy sessions on November 22, 2011. The therapist diagnosed K.O. with an adjustment disorder. The therapist also worked with Frances to prepare her for an "accountability" session with K.O. At that session, Frances was supportive of K.O. and took full responsibility for the physical abuse she inflicted on the child. The therapist also worked to ease the tension in the relationship between Katrina and her mother, Frances, because that conflict upset K.O.

The juvenile court held dispositional hearings on December 20, 2011, and June 19, 2012, and continued K.O.'s placement with her grandmother, Katrina. In the summer of 2012, K.O. started having unsupervised visits with Frances three times per week. Also during the summer, K.O. had the chance to spend time with her two biological brothers, who live in Indiana. The boys stayed with their grandmother, Katrina, but also visited their great grandmother, Frances.

In the fall of 2012, K.O. expressed to her therapist a preference for remaining in Katrina's home, though the therapist believed that Frances and K.O. were "developing a deeper level of trust with one another by spending quality time together and by communicating feelings to one another."

On October 1, 2012, the juvenile court held a permanency hearing. The State told the court that the DHS recommended reunification of K.O. with her adoptive mother, Frances. The guardian ad litem (GAL) requested "a permanency order to enter that would allow [K.O.] to remain in the long-term custody of her grandmother Katrina, where she's been for the past year." The GAL mentioned an "age factor" between K.O. and Frances-asserting Katrina was "better suited to provide care for her long term." Frances's attorney reminded the court that the great-grandmother ...


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