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In re A.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 5, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF A.J., Minor Child, D.J., Father, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Julie A. Schumacher, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals from the juvenile court's dispositional review order in a child-in-need-of-assistance proceeding. AFFIRMED.

          Andrew J. Twinamatsiko of Crary Huff, Sioux City, for appellant father.

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

          Stephanie S. Forker Parry of Forker & Parry, Sioux City, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          MULLINS, Presiding Judge.

         The father of A.J., age four, appeals from the juvenile court's dispositional review order in a child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) proceeding. He argues the State failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a substantial and material change in circumstances existed to modify the custody provision of the court's prior dispositional order. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         In July 2016, the juvenile court adjudicated the child CINA, pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(b), (c)(2), and (n) (2016). A.J. had been the subject of at least four child protective services assessments before she was adjudicated CINA, three of which involved the father. There had been reports the father was "rough" with A.J. and physically disciplined her with a belt. The father was also involved in an incident of domestic violence involving A.J.'s mother that A.J. witnessed. The father repeatedly refused to cooperate with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) regarding these incidents. The father was also the subject of an investigation by law enforcement for allegations of sexual abuse.

         The father has a lengthy history of domestic violence. At the time of the adjudication, the father was living with A.J., his girlfriend, their child together, [1]and his girlfriend's older child. The father's girlfriend described incidents in which the father had hit her when she was pregnant and also when she was holding their infant child or her older child. She testified the father had also hit her in the head and face and called her derogatory names. She admitted she had hit the father. The father admitted he had been physical with his girlfriend and had broken items in the home when he was angry. The court acknowledged the father's history of domestic violence, his anger-management issues, and that all three children had witnessed the violence. The court noted A.J. had begun mimicking the violence, throwing objects at the father's girlfriend, hitting her, and yelling at the girlfriend's child. The court also found the father treated his girlfriend's other child poorly and his girlfriend used foul language toward A.J., which A.J. repeated. The child's guardian ad litem (GAL) expressed reservations about the father's continued custody of the child but did not resist the custodial arrangement at that time. The court noted it shared similar concerns given the father's history but ultimately determined it was in the child's best interests to remain in the father's custody under the protective supervision of DHS, so long as the father cooperated with services and did not allow contact between the child and his girlfriend.

         In August, the court held a dispositional hearing at which the father admitted to physically disciplining A.J. by "whooping" her and smacking her in the face. The father also admitted he had instructed his girlfriend to physically discipline A.J. and frequently allowed his girlfriend to provide unsupervised care for the child. The court noted the father and his girlfriend had continued to expose the children to domestic violence in the home and admonished the father for physically disciplining A.J. and for instructing his girlfriend to physically discipline her. The court warned the father that, if DHS received any information regarding further physical discipline of A.J. or reports of domestic violence between the father and his girlfriend, both could serve as a basis for the removal of the child from his custody. The court further acknowledged DHS had observed his home to be cluttered and dirty, with food wrappers, dishes, and other items scattered on the floor and the carpet to be extremely soiled. Nevertheless, DHS recommended A.J. remain in the custody of her father, and the State and the GAL reluctantly agreed; A.J.'s mother resisted the recommendations. The court hesitantly continued placement of A.J. with her father and ordered the father to participate in parenting classes and a psychological evaluation.

         The court held a dispositional review hearing two months later. At the hearing, the father testified he was no longer in a relationship and had not used physical discipline for A.J. since he had begun parenting classes. He admitted he had anger-management issues but denied having any mental-health issues. He admitted he did not obtain a psychological evaluation until early October; thus his results were unavailable at the time of the hearing. The father testified A.J. had been accepted into a preschool program but he chose not to enroll her despite repeated requests by DHS.

         The State presented evidence of several incidents that had occurred since the dispositional hearing in August. On one occasion, the father slept through a visit with his younger child and the service provider was required to parent A.J. during that time. On another occasion in late September, when the service provider arrived at the father's home in the late morning to pick A.J. up for a visit with her mother, the father was still in bed and his girlfriend was parenting A.J. in violation of the court's order. About one week before the review hearing in October, the service provider was present in the father's home for a supervised visit with his younger child and observed A.J. step on a block and begin to cry. The father believed A.J. was merely seeking attention and became agitated with the child. He called the child negative names and sent her to her room. The service provider ...


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