IN THE INTEREST OF K.B.S. AND T.J.S., Minor Children, A.S., Mother, Appellant.
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Charles D. Fagan, District Associate Judge.
A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two children.
J. Joseph Narmi, Council Bluffs, for appellant mother.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Janet L. Hoffman, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew Wilbur, County Attorney, and Eric Strovers, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee State.
Phil Caniglia, Council Bluffs, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Doyle, JJ.
A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two children, born in 2008 and 2011. She contends (1) the State failed to prove the grounds for termination cited by the district court, (2) the Department of Human Services did not make reasonable efforts to reunify her with her children, (3) termination was not in the children's best interests, and (4) the district court should have considered an exception to termination for placement with a relative.
I. The district court terminated the mother's parental rights to the older child pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d), (e), and (f) (2013) and to the younger child pursuant to section 232.116(1)(i) and (l). We may affirm if we find clear and convincing evidence to support any of the grounds cited by the district court. In re S.R., 600 N.W.2d 63, 64 (Iowa Ct. App. 1999).
The record reflects that the children were initially removed from the parents' custody in the fall of 2011 based on allegations of illegal drug use in the home, lack of appropriate shelter, and mental health concerns. The children were reunited for approximately two months but were again removed based on allegations of domestic violence between the parents. Meanwhile, the father died of a possible drug overdose.
The department afforded the mother one two-hour supervised visit with her children per week. The mother regularly attended those visits in the months preceding the termination hearing but did not always cooperate with the service providers who were there to assist her.
A family consultant characterized the mother's progress towards reunification as "[m]inimal." He testified that, overall, the mother was not open to suggestions and help from him and from other providers. While he acknowledged that the mother interacted well with the younger child, he described the dynamic with the older child as "kind of rough." In a report to the court, he stated the mother displayed "very erratic behaviors during supervised visits at times."
Another service provider expressed similar concerns, citing an incident towards the end of a visit when the mother ignored instructions to place the children in the service provider's car and instead placed them in her father's car, precipitating a call to police. The service provider noted that the older child, in particular, would not receive the same level of care as she was currently receiving in the care of her paternal grandmother.
A mental health therapist stated that the mother had not made "permanent progress" towards her goals. When asked whether the children could be returned to the mother today, she testified the children "would still be at risk." In a report to the court summarizing the last visit before the termination hearing, the provider stated the mother "was very withdrawn from the session and did not want to participate with services." She noted that the mother was "going back to her old ways, where she does not listen or [want] to do what this provider is asking of her." She expressed concern "that [the mother] is only able to have so many good weeks before she starts to not care about the session again." She opined that the ...