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In re S.L.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 5, 2014

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

Editorial Note:

This decision has been referenced in a "Decisions Without Published Opinions" table in the North Western Reporter.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Barbara H. Liesveld, District Associate Judge. A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

W. Eric Nelson of State Public Defender Office, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kathrine S. Miller-Todd, Assistant Attorney General, Jerry Vander Sanden, County Attorney, and Rebecca Belcher, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

David N. Nadler, Cedar Rapids, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Mullins, JJ.

OPINION

MULLINS, J.

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her five-year-old daughter, S.L.[1] The mother's parental rights were terminated under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) and (i) (2013). She asserts on appeal that the guardian ad litem failed to prove there was clear and convincing evidence the child could not be returned to her custody at the present time, see Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f)(4), and failed to prove there was clear and convincing evidence that the offer or receipt of services would not correct the conditions that led to the abuse or neglect of the child within a reasonable period, see Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(i)(3). She also asserts it was not in her daughter's best interests to terminate her parental rights. Upon our de novo review, we conclude the guardian ad litem has proved the child cannot be returned to the custody of the mother at the present time. We also find it is in the child's best interests to terminate the mother's parental rights.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS.

The mother has a history of drug abuse and mental health issues. The child was removed from the mother's home in April 2010 and adjudicated a child in need of assistance the following month, when the child was just under two years of age, due to concerns over the cleanliness of the home, the mother's use of cocaine, and the supervision of the child. The mother's other three children were also removed from the mother's care at that time. The child was placed in the care of her paternal grandmother. A little over a year after the removal, the child was placed in her biological father's care. However, the child was removed from his home approximately six months later due to his drug use. The child was again placed in her paternal grandmother's home.

After another year, a trial home placement with the mother began in January 2012. At trial, the paternal grandmother stated that the child stayed with her a significant amount of time during the trial home placement with the mother; specifically, the child stayed with the paternal grandmother eighteen of thirty-one overnights in March, fifteen of thirty overnights in April, and fourteen of thirty-one overnights in May. Approximately five months after the trial home placement with the mother began, the mother admitted to using methamphetamine while caring for the child and using crack cocaine outside the presence of the child. The mother also later admitted to using marijuana during the trial home placement outside the presence of the child and was seen intoxicated while the child was in her care. The mother also permitted the child's biological father to have unsupervised contact with the child in contravention to the direction of the department of human services. The child was once again removed from the mother's care[2] and placed with the paternal grandmother, where she remained at the time of the termination hearing.

The mother has a long history of mental health problems, including diagnoses of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. She has been receiving weekly individual therapy for three years. Her therapist testified at the termination hearing that there has been a lot of chaos in the mother's life and that there has not been one person that can be said to have had a positive relationship with the mother. Every person around her, including her former romantic relationships and her immediate family members, has had a very " push and pull toxic relationship" with the mother. The therapist did say the mother has made huge progress but that progress is just the tip of the iceberg.

The trial court terminated the mother's parental rights after finding the child had been removed from her parents' care for over half of her life due to the parents' drug use and mental health problems. While the mother had made progress in therapy over the past three years, she still had a long way to go, and she had little to no insight and judgment into her choice of relationship with men. She also maintained a relationship with her own ...


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