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In re S.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 11, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF S.P. and K.P., Minor Children, D.P., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Butler County, Peter B. Newell, District Associate Judge.

         A mother challenges the juvenile court's finding in its dispositional order that the Iowa Department of Human Services had made reasonable efforts toward reunifying her family. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          David A. Kuehner of Eggert, Erb, Mulcahy & Kuehner P.L.L.C., Charles City, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Elizabeth A. Batey of Vickers Law Office, Greene, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Teenagers S.P. and K.P. refuse to have contact with their mother, Dawn, who is accused of dealing methamphetamine out of their home. On appeal, Dawn contends the juvenile court erred in finding the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) had made reasonable efforts at reunification when no visitation had been scheduled during the five months the children had been removed from her care. Although the social workers encouraged the children to see their mother, the DHS insisted that given their ages, the children could not be forced to attend visitation.

         In looking at the record anew, [1] we conclude the DHS failed to maintain reasonable efforts toward reunification by delegating the decision regarding visitation entirely to the children. At the next scheduled review hearing, the juvenile court should scrutinize the discretion exercised by the DHS in establishing or not establishing visitation, which would include securing a recommendation from the children's therapist regarding the feasibility of reinitiating contact with their mother through family counseling.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         This child-welfare case opened in May 2016 when the Butler County Sheriff arrested Dawn for operating while intoxicated (drugged driving) and found eight grams of methamphetamine in her possession. The State charged Dawn with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, a class "B" felony. The DHS placed Dawn's sixteen-year-old daughter, K.P., and fourteen-year-old son, S.P., [2] in the care of the mother's cousin and her husband. The children had stayed with these relatives on previous occasions and felt secure in their home.

         The May 2016 incident was not the first family upheaval experienced by these children. In the spring of 2011, S.P. and K.P. were adjudicated as children in need of assistance (CINA) after authorities discovered their parents were manufacturing methamphetamine. In 2012, the children lost their father to suicide; the children were present in the home when he took his life, and S.P. found his father's body. To address their grief, the children participated in mental health counseling from August 2013 to May 2014. A second CINA adjudication occurred in September 2013 based on the mother's drug use; that case was closed in May 2014.

         At a hearing on August 17, 2016, Dawn stipulated S.P. and K.P. were CINA under Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(l) (2015) but urged the juvenile court to establish visitation.[3] Her attorney asked the court to "order that visitation take place. Our concern is that if it's not court ordered, that the children's resistance to have the visitation would prevent them from occurring."[4] The court responded:

I think that's something that needs to be looked into a little bit more carefully. Again, I think if the children need mental health evaluations, we probably want to talk to their counselors about that and set up something where-I mean, if the counselors are willing to do that and there's kind of a therapeutic setting, I think that we can do that. But I think ...

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