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In re J.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 19, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.H., Minor Child, K.S., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for O'Brien County, David C. Larson, District Associate Judge.

         An incarcerated mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her seven-year-old daughter. AFFIRMED.

          Katie F. Morgan of Klay, Veldhuizen, Bindner, De Jong & Halverson, P.L.C., Paullina, for appellant mother.

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

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

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         A mother, K.S., who was incarcerated at the time of the termination-of-parental-rights hearing, appeals the juvenile court's order severing her legal relationship with her daughter, J.H.[1] K.S. raises two issues on appeal: (1) the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) did not provide reasonable efforts to reunify their family under Iowa Code section 232.102(7) (2016) and (2) the juvenile court should have declined to terminate under section 232.116(3)(c) based on the strong mother-child bond. On the first issue, we find the DHS made an adequate record showing its reasonable efforts to facilitate visitation while K.S. was serving time at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. On the second issue, the evidence was not clear and convincing that termination would be detrimental to J.H. because of the closeness of her relationship with K.S. Accordingly, we affirm the juvenile court's order.[2]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         This appeal involves the future of now seven-year-old J.H. Her mother, K.S., has a history of criminal offenses and drug-related problems. For instance, K.S. spent time in jail for illegal possession of prescription drugs in April and May 2013. In November 2013, her probation was revoked and she was incarcerated for six months, until May 2014. K.S. also spent ten days in jail in June 2014. When K.S. was incarcerated, she relied on friends and family to care for J.H.[3]

         During the summer of 2014, the DHS investigated a claim of child abuse against K.S. involving her supervision of J.H., then four years old, while the mother was abusing prescription pain killers or other illegal drugs. The juvenile court adjudicated J.H. as a child in need of assistance (CINA) in September 2014 but left the child in her mother's care after K.S. completed a substance-abuse evaluation and agreed to treatment and random drug testing. K.S. gave birth to a third child in February 2015.[4]

         J.H. was removed from her mother's care in June 2015 when K.S. began serving an indeterminate ten-year prison sentence for obtaining prescription drugs by deceit. J.H. was initially placed with her father, but he was unable to provide her with consistent care. J.H. has been living with the same foster family since February 2016. Her guardian ad litem (GAL) reported J.H.'s verbal skills and school performance have significantly improved during that time. In the GAL's view, J.H.-who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)-has benefited from the calm and structured environment she has experienced in her foster home in Sheldon.

         But the distance between the foster home in Sheldon and the prison in Mitchellville (more than 400 miles roundtrip) has made arranging visitation difficult. J.H. had only three visits with her mother in prison-once in January 2016 when a family friend transported her, and twice in the summer of 2016 when a caseworker made the trip. In May 2016, the juvenile court continued permanency for six months based on the mother's report that she would likely be paroled in November 2016. At the time of those visits in June and July, K.S. was residing in a halfway program outside the prison walls. But in August, K.S. was returned to the main prison facility after being accused of forging a time sheet, and in October 2016, her request for parole was denied. She was not due for another parole review until March 2017.

         The State filed a petition to terminate parental rights on November 3, 2016, and the juvenile court heard testimony on November 29. In an order issued on January 24, 2017, the court terminated K.S.'s parental rights based on Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f). In K.S.'s petition appealing that order, she does not challenge the statutory ground. In the absence of a ...

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