Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Terry E. Wilson, Judge.
A mother appeals the order terminating her parental rights.
Tabitha L. Turner of Turner & Vogel Law Office, Des Moines, for appellant mother.
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Janet L. Hoffman, Assistant Attorney General, John P. Sarcone, County Attorney, and Kevin J. Brownell, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee State.
M. Kathryn Miller of the Polk County Juvenile Public Defender, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Doyle, JJ.
A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. We review her claims de novo. In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 773 (Iowa 2012).
The mother gave birth to C.R. in September 2010 at age eighteen. At that time, she was living at home with her mother, C.R.'s maternal grandmother ("grandmother"). The grandmother has a history of methamphetamine use. At some point, the grandmother's minor children were removed from her care due to her unresolved substance abuse issues, and a child in need of assistance case was opened. Because of the Iowa Department of Human Services's (Department) involvement in that case, the Department learned the mother had a history of leaving C.R. with relatives for days at a time. The Department also discovered the mother had left C.R. in the sole care of the grandmother although the mother had been repeatedly instructed not to do so for safety reasons. As a result, the child was removed from the mother's care on May 20, 2012. The child was placed in the care of a relative, where he has since remained.
Services were offered to the mother, and the mother initially made progress. For a period of approximately twelve weeks, the mother consistently participated in visitation with the child, advancing to unsupervised visitation. She participated in therapy, working on controlling her anger, gaining coping skills, and recognizing how her parenting decisions and personal relationships affect her and the child. The mother started attending a parenting class.
Despite her progress, the mother's participation in the case stopped in December 2012, after she was arrested for assaulting the grandmother in public. She subsequently lost her job and insurance, and she did not engage in any services or visitation with the child, disappearing for about six weeks. She did not ask the Department for help to continue services during this time, and she did not contact the Department to let caseworkers know why she was not having visitation.
The State subsequently filed a petition for termination of her parental rights. After that, the mother resumed her participation in services, including therapy and visitation with the child.
A hearing on the petition for termination of the mother's parental rights was held May 30, 2013. At that time, the child had been out of the mother's care for just over a year. At the hearing, the mother testified she had resumed services and the child could safely be returned to her care at that time. She testified she was once again employed, had obtained a vehicle, and was working towards getting her driver's license back by paying down her fines. She testified she and C.R. were closely bonded. However, she admitted her housing arrangement at that time was precarious. She also acknowledged she had been arrested twice during the pendency of the case, once for nonpayment of fines, and once for assault, extending the probation term she had received in February 2012 after she pled guilty to third-degree theft. The mother recognized she had been inconsistent with her visitation and admitted she did not take advantage of the extra time she could have spent with the child. She explained she was in an abusive relationship at that time, and her paramour's abuse prevented her participation in the case in many ways. She testified she ended that negative relationship and had resumed services and visitation.
The Department's caseworker conversely testified she did not believe the child could be returned to the mother's care at that time. The caseworker testified the mother's consistency "just isn't there, " explaining "[t]he history of her is that she falls off or she dumps [the child] off." The caseworker admitted the mother and child were strongly bonded, and she acknowledged it would probably be harmful for the child not to have the mother in his life anymore. However, the caseworker testified the child was in need of permanency, and she explained how the mother's inconsistency in her visits had negatively impacted the child, causing the child to act out. She testified the child was "naughty ...