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In the Interest of R.M.

January 24, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF R.M., MINOR CHILD, K.M., MOTHER, APPELLANT, L.M., FATHER, APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Ida County, Mary L. Timko, Associate Juvenile Judge.

Per curiam.

A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights to their child. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

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

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

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Kristi, previously a chronic drug user, had a long history with the Department of Human Services. In a separate proceeding, the juvenile court terminated her parental rights to her first child.

Kristi had a second child in 2011, fathered by her husband, Lee. Shortly after the child's birth, Kristi was arrested for domestic abuse assault on Lee and was ordered to have no contact with him. The child remained with his father and paternal grandparents.

In a matter of weeks, Lee faced his own legal challenges. Like Kristi, Lee abused a variety of substances. Within a month of Kristi's arrest, he was found to be under the influence of drugs, and the child was removed from his custody. A drug test revealed cocaine in his system.

The couple's troubles with the law continued. Lee and Kristi obtained a modification of the no-contact order to undergo couple's counseling and, after the session, secretly met. An altercation ensued and Kristi came away with a black eye. Authorities arrested Lee for domestic abuse assault and, later, rearrested him on drug-related charges. Lee spent several months in jail.

Eleven months after the child's removal, the juvenile court held a combined permanency and termination hearing and, following the hearing, terminated the parents' rights to the child. Both parents appealed.

II. Mother's Appeal

Kristi raises a number of challenges to the termination decision. We only find it necessary to address one of the issues: whether Kristi was entitled to a trial home placement and a six-month extension to enhance the prospects for reunification.

We begin by noting the obvious: Kristi's lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful involvement with the department following the removal of her first child did not bode well for her reunification prospects with the second child. But the record contains overwhelming evidence of Kristi's willingness to respond to services that would correct the situation. At the outset, the department informed Kristi she would need to "attend all mental health appointments," "take all medications as prescribed," "participate in a psychological evaluation," and "abstain from mood altering substances." Kristi met and exceeded these expectations. She submitted to drug tests, all of which were negative; completed a drug treatment program; began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as recommended; provided uncontradicted testimony that she had been drug free for "over a year and seven months"; obtained a twenty-seven-hour-per-week job; purchased a car; cleaned and maintained her apartment; participated in domestic violence treatment sessions; underwent therapy to address anger and other issues; and engaged in home visits with the child two to three times a week, with minimal supervision. When asked about the difference between her efforts with her first child and her efforts in this proceeding, she stated, "I am taking this more seriously, um, then what I did last time. I worked on anger . . . . I am more determined to do the things that I have to do for myself."

Kristi's therapist, who also counseled her during the proceedings involving her first child, reported that her attitude and behavior ...


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