IN THE INTEREST OF A.H., S.S., and T.S., Minor children, J.S., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Webster County, Angela L.
Doyle, District Associate Judge.
appeals from an order terminating her parental rights
pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2016). AFFIRMED.
J. Johnson of Johnson and Bonzer, P.L.C., Fort Dodge, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen Witte Kraemer,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
J. Conrad of Baker, Johnsen, Sandblom & Lemmenes,
Humboldt, guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
the mother, appeals from an order terminating her parental
rights in her three children, A.H, born in 2009, T.S., born
in 2011, and S.S., born in 2014. The juvenile court
terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa
Code section 232.116(1)(f) and (h) (2016). On appeal, the
mother contends the juvenile court should have deferred
permanency for an additional six months to allow her more
time to reunify with the children. She also contends the
termination of her parental rights was not in the best
interests of the children. Finally, she argues the district
court erred in admitting into evidence certain mental health
review proceedings terminating parental rights de novo."
In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014) (citing
In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010)). The
statutory framework governing termination proceedings is well
established. Pursuant to section 232.116(1), the State must
prove a statutory ground authorizing the termination of a
parent's rights. See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33,
39 (Iowa 2010). Section 232.116(1) sets forth the harms the
legislature has determined to be of sufficient concern to
justify the breakup of the family unit. Second, pursuant to
section 232.116(2), the State must prove termination of
parental rights is in the best interests of the child.
See id. Third, if the State has proved both the
existence of statutory harm and termination of a parent's
rights is in the best interests of the child, the juvenile
court must consider whether any countervailing considerations
set forth in section 232.116(3) should nonetheless preclude
termination of parental rights. See id. These
countervailing considerations are permissive, not mandatory.
See A.M., 843 N.W.2d at 113. "The court has
discretion, based on the unique circumstances of each case
and the best interests of the child, whether to apply the
factors in this section to save the parent-child
relationship." In re D.S., 806 N.W.2d 458, 475
(Iowa Ct. App. 2011) (citing In re C.L.H., 500
N.W.2d 449, 454 (Iowa Ct. App. 1993).
State has the burden to prove its case by clear and
convincing evidence. "Clear and convincing evidence is
more than a preponderance of the evidence and less than
evidence beyond a reasonable doubt." In re
L.G., 532 N.W.2d 478, 481 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995) (citing
King v. King, 291 N.W.2d 22, 24 (Iowa 1980)).
"It is the highest evidentiary burden in civil cases. It
means there must be no serious or substantial doubt about the
correctness of a particular conclusion drawn from the
evidence." In re M.S., 889 N.W.2d 675, 679
(Iowa Ct. App. 2016). This significant burden is
imposed on the State to minimize the risk of an erroneous
deprivation of the parent's fundamental liberty interest
in raising his or her child. See Santosky v. Kramer,
455 U.S. 745, 759 (1982). We therefore cannot rubber stamp
what has come before; it is our task to ensure the State has
come forth with the quantum and quality of evidence necessary
to prove each of the elements of its case. See id.
family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human
Services (hereinafter "IDHS") in October 2015 after
the two older children were found wandering outside alone at
night. This was the fourth time the children were returned to
the home by law enforcement. At the time of the incident,
Jennifer was married to and living with Jeremy, the father of
the two younger children. IDHS's investigation raised
concerns regarding the ability of the mother and the father
to provide for the basic needs of the children, including
proper feeding and supervision. IDHS also had concerns
regarding domestic violence in the home. IDHS removed the
children from the home. Subsequent to removal, based on
additional information obtained from A.H., a child protective
assessment was founded against Jeremy for sexual abuse,
lascivious acts with a child. A.H. was the victim of
mother and the children have mental-health conditions.
Jennifer has an intellectual disability and untreated
mental-health conditions. She has an IQ of 62. She was
diagnosed with anxiety and depressive disorder. At the
initiation of this case, Jennifer engaged in treatment for
her mental-health conditions. She was discharged
unsuccessfully, however, for the failure to attend her
sessions. T.S. was diagnosed with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder and developmental speech delay. He is
on the autism spectrum. He engages in violent acts of harm to
self and others. A.H. was diagnosed with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder,
disinhibited social engagement disorder, and unspecified
intellectual disability. A.H. engages in inappropriate
conduct, including aggression and sexualized behavior, such
as public masturbation. S.S. is developmentally delayed and
is being evaluated for autism.
does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting
the statutory grounds authorizing the termination of her
parental rights. She does contend, however, the juvenile
court should have deferred permanency for an additional six
months to afford her more time to seek reunification with her
children. To defer permanency for six months, the juvenile
court was required to "enumerate the specific factors,
conditions, or expected behavioral changes which comprise the
basis for the determination that the need for removal of the