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In the Interest of L.R.

January 9, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF L.R., A.R., AND B.R., MINOR CHILDREN, A.R., FATHER, APPELLANT, B.P., MOTHER, APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Susan Flaherty, Associate Juvenile Judge.

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

A mother and father appeal separately from the order terminating their parental rights to three children. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

A mother and father appeal separately from the order terminating their parental rights to three children. They contend the State did not prove the statutory grounds for termination, termination is not in the children's best interests, and the court should have refused to terminate their parental rights because the children are in the custody of a relative or because of a strong parent-child bond. We affirm on both appeals.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

The Iowa Department of Human Services became involved with this family in December 2009 based on reports the parents were using methamphetamine in the home. Both have long-term substance abuse problems. Their two children were removed in late December and adjudicated children in need of assistance. In January 2010, because the mother was in a residential substance abuse program, the children were returned to her on a trial basis. When she left the program five days later, the children were removed again. In late January all parties stipulated the children would remain in the department's custody for foster family placement.

The third child, born in April 2010, tested positive for methamphetamine at birth and was removed from the mother's care the next day. He was adjudicated in need of assistance in late April. The mother had returned to the residential treatment program, so the court authorized the department to place the newborn with her on a trial basis. Two days later, the court also authorized another trial placement of the older children with the mother. The father also entered a residential treatment program in April, but was discharged after two weeks. He did not enroll in outpatient treatment as recommended, until after he relapsed, lost his job, and became homeless.

By August, the mother had successfully completed the residential program and moved into the half-way program. The court returned the children to the mother's custody under the protective supervision of the department. Throughout the fall of 2010, the parents made progress toward reunification. Both provided negative drug tests. The mother was employed. In December the father's visitation was expanded to semi-supervised. By the end of 2010, however, the mother was discharged from the half-way program because she was not meeting expectations and was not motivated to change. She did not participate in aftercare or relapse prevention programs after leaving the half-way program. When she obtained an apartment, she relapsed on methamphetamine. The father moved into the apartment, but neither parent told service providers or the department the father was living in the apartment.

In April 2011, the department sought and obtained an order removing the children because the father's drug tests were positive and the mother admitted they were using methamphetamine together in the apartment. The children were placed in the department's custody for relative or foster care. The department placed the children with the maternal grandfather and step-grandmother, where they have remained. The parents had supervised visitation. From April through August, they made little progress toward reunification. The father was jailed in July for violating his probation.

At a review hearing in late August, the department noted its intent to seek termination of the parents' parental rights. The father soon entered a residential treatment program, then moved to outpatient treatment. In October he was jailed for a probation violation and for possession of precursors. In November he was sent to a community corrections program where he remained until his successful completion in mid-June 2012. The mother also entered an inpatient treatment program in September 2011, but was unsuccessful. She enrolled in outpatient treatment, but continued to use methamphetamine. She lost her employment and housing. In October she was arrested for possession of precursor chemicals, pleaded guilty, and received a deferred judgment.

By the time of a permanency hearing in March 2012, both parents had begun making progress toward reunification, but by then a petition to terminate their parental rights had been filed. The mother obtained employment and housing and continued substance abuse treatment. However, she tested positive for drugs in April. She also submitted several drug test patches considered invalid due to apparent tampering. The father obtained employment, participated in visitation, and provided clean drug tests. When he was released from community corrections, he moved back in with the mother.

The termination petition came on for hearing in mid-July. The court found clear and convincing evidence to terminate both parents' rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f), (h), and (l) (2011). Although the court acknowledged the parents' recent commitment to making needed changes, it concluded neither had shown an ability to provide the children a safe, stable, and drug-free home. It concluded their recent changes were "insufficient to predict future success, particularly when viewed against the many years of substance abuse, the cyclical efforts to gain sobriety without long-term success, and the very real instability and risk of harm experienced by the children as a result of parental behavior and choices."

II. Scope and Standards of Review

We review terminations de novo. In re H.S., 805 N.W.2d 737, 745 (Iowa 2011). We examine both the facts and law, and adjudicate anew those issues properly preserved and presented. In re L.G., 532 N.W.2d 478, 480-81 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995). We accord considerable weight to the findings of the trial court, especially ...


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