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In re K.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 17, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF K.G., M.S., H.S., and J.M., Minor Children, R.S., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, William S. Owens, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals from the order terminating her parental rights in her four children. AFFIRMED.

          Mary Baird Krafka of Krafka Law Office, Ottumwa, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ana Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Sam K. Erhardt of Erhardt & Erhardt, Ottumwa, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         This is an appeal from an order terminating the mother's and three fathers' respective rights in four children: H.S., born in 2005; M.S., born in 2006; K.G., born in 2013; and J.M., born in 2015. Only the mother, Ruby, seeks appellate review.

         I.

         "We 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 is well established. Pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2016), 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). Second, pursuant to section 232.116(2), the State must prove termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the children. 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 children, 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.

         II.

         Ruby challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds authorizing the termination of her parental rights. The district court terminated the mother's parental rights in her two older children pursuant to section 232.116(1)(f) and in the two younger children pursuant to section 232.116(1)(h). As relevant here, section 232.116(1)(f) required the State to prove "that at the present time the child[ren] cannot be returned to the custody of the child[ren]'s parents as provided in section 232.102." Similarly, section 232.116(1)(h) required the State to prove "that the child[ren] cannot be returned to the custody of the child[ren]'s parents as provided in section 232.102 at the present time." We have interpreted these provisions to require clear and convincing evidence the children would be exposed to an appreciable risk of adjudicatory harm if returned to the parent's custody at the time of the termination hearing. See In re M.S., 889 N.W.2d 675, 680 (Iowa Ct. App. 2016).

         Previously, Ruby was involved with the department of human services in another proceeding. As relevant to this proceeding, the family came to the attention of the department in June 2014 following a report of domestic violence involving Ruby and her paramour Nick. One of the children suffered injuries during this incident. During the course of the department's investigation, Ruby tested positive for methamphetamine. The children were removed from her care in September of 2014 on concerns of domestic violence in the home, illegal substance abuse in the home, and Ruby's erratic behavior. Ruby's erratic behavior worsened, and she was hospitalized in October 2014 for mental-health needs. Specifically, Ruby suffered from delusions/hallucinations. Shortly after her release from the hospital, Ruby commenced a romantic relationship with Gary and moved in with him. In March 2015, Ruby moved out of the residence she shared with Gary. At that time, Gary reported Ruby had been using methamphetamine. Initially, Ruby denied it. However, in June 2015, Ruby admitted using methamphetamine, and she asked the department for assistance in entering a residential treatment program. At the time she admitted to methamphetamine use, she was pregnant with J.M., whose father is Gary.

         After her request for assistance, Ruby was admitted into a residential treatment facility. H.S., M.S., and K.G. were returned to her custody and care. In July 2015, J.M. was born. He was hospitalized on three separate occasions shortly after his birth for failure to thrive. It is unclear whether some of the child's medical issues were caused by Ruby's methamphetamine use during her pregnancy. What is clear is that Ruby was unable to provide basic care and feeding for the child without prompting and supervision. During this same time period, Ruby began to miss her scheduled appointments and sessions in the residential treatment facility. Facility staff warned Ruby that she would be discharged if she continued to miss her scheduled appointments and sessions. The residential treatment facility discharged Ruby ...


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