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In re S.L.

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 6, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF S.L., Minor Child, M.L., Mother, Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dickinson County, David C. Larson, District Associate Judge.

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

Pamela Wingert, Spirit Lake, for appellant mother.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kathrine S. Miller-Todd, Assistant Attorney General, Jason Carlstrom, County Attorney, and Travis Johnson, Assistant County Attorney, for appllee State.

Shannon Sandy of Sandy Law Firm, P.C., Spirit Lake, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

VAITHESWARAN, P.J.

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, born in 2011. She contends (1) "custody of the child should have been returned to [her]" and (2) "the State failed to meet its burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in [the child's] best interest."

I.

The juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to two code provisions. We may affirm if we find clear and convincing evidence to support either of the statutory grounds. See In re S.R., 600 N.W.2d 63, 64 (Iowa Ct. App. 1999). On our de novo review, we agree with the district court that the State established the ground for termination set forth in Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2013) (requiring proof of several elements, including proof the child could not be returned to the parent's custody).

The young mother lived in a trailer with up to eight or nine people and five dogs. Before the birth of the child that is the subject of this appeal, the trailer caught fire and the mother's older child died. As a result, this child was adjudicated in need of assistance and the Department of Human Services initiated services to help the family.

A service provider who worked with the family for approximately ten months testified that the trailer was in "[d]eplorable" condition. She noted that it had "an unusually [significant] high fire load, " a measure of the number of items in the home that could ignite. She cited "numerous safety concerns" that, in her view, posed an "imminent danger." The service provider also described the relationship between the mother and father as "[v]ery complicated" and "volatile at times" and stated the mother did not consistently take medication prescribed for mental health diagnoses.[1] She characterized the progress the family had made as "[e]xtremely minimal."

A nurse with a public health agency cited similar concerns with sanitation and safety and testified to "the lack of emotional, mental health treatment that the parents were willing to accept." Of particular concern was the mental health of the baby, in whom she saw "extreme fear."

The child was eventually placed with the paternal grandmother in South Dakota. At the termination hearing, the grandmother testified that the child had been in her "full-time custody and care" for more than a year. She said the child was "a number one priority" for her and she did not see the ...


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