IN THE INTEREST OF J.O. and CO., Minor Children, M.S., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Susan F.
Flaherty, Associate Juvenile Judge.
mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to two
R. Ramsey-Kacena, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Gretchen W. Kraemer, Special
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
J. Hoover of Hoover Law Office, P.C., Cedar Rapids, guardian
ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
mother, Melissa, appeals the termination of her parental
rights to two sons, J.O. and C.O., now ages four and two.
Melissa argues her progress toward reunification was
"stymied" because the juvenile court declined to
give the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) discretion
to allow anything but supervised visitation from May 2015
until October 2016. Melissa also contends: "The length
of time between the termination trial in September 2015 and
the ruling in March 2017 does not support a finding of clear
and convincing evidence. If the evidence were truly clear and
convincing, a ruling would have been forthcoming in less than
agree the inordinate delay between the original hearing on
the State's termination petition and the juvenile
court's ruling terminating parental rights propelled
Melissa into a parental purgatory not contemplated by Iowa
Code chapter 232. After a termination hearing is concluded,
the juvenile court must file written findings-either
dismissing the petition or ordering parental rights
terminated. Iowa Code § 232.117(1)-(3) (2017). While the
statute does not include a deadline for issuing a termination
decision, our case law stresses the importance of a timely
determination of children's permanent placement. See
In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 36 (Iowa 2010).
termination order, the juvenile court offered no explanation
for letting the case languish. Instead, the court tried to
spin the delay as a bonus for the parents, asserting it
provided them "with additional time to demonstrate the
ability to care for their children." We reject this
assertion. Given the strong public policy against protracted
litigation in dependency proceedings, we cannot endorse a de
facto continuation of permanency where the juvenile court
offers no rationale for postponing its decision. See
Iowa Code § 232.104(2)(b) (requiring enumeration of
"specific factors, conditions, or expected behavioral
changes" providing a basis for determination the need
for removal of children from home will no longer exist at the
end of six-month period).
that being said, after independently reviewing the record,
cannot find the court's delay requires reversal based on
the issues raised in Melissa's petition on appeal.
Accordingly, we affirm for the reasons that follow.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
tested positive for cocaine at his birth in 2013. Melissa,
who had a long history of addiction, acknowledged using crack
cocaine throughout her pregnancy. J.O.'s father, Jason,
also had a history of substance abuse, and Jason engaged in
domestic violence against Melissa. The DHS initiated a
child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) action, but because
Melissa immediately arranged to enter a residential
substance-abuse treatment program for women with children,
the DHS did not seek to remove J.O. from his mother's
April 17, 2013, the juvenile court adjudicated J.O. as a
CINA, and J.O. remained with Melissa. In accordance with the
adjudication order, Melissa participated in substance-abuse
and mental-health treatment. But Jason did not consistently
engage in services. On June 4, 2013, the court ordered Jason
to have only supervised contact with J.O., and Melissa was
not to "supervise or facilitate contact" between
Jason and J.O.
February 2014, J.O. received a bad burn on his abdomen.
Melissa was unsure how the injury occurred. A DHS social
worker completed a protective assessment and concluded the
abuse report should be founded, identifying Melissa as
failing to provide critical care or proper supervision,
though the social worker did not believe Melissa inflicted
the injury on J.O. The DHS developed a safety plan with
Melissa and concluded J.O. could safely remain in her care.
months later, J.O. received another burn injury, this time to
two areas on his back. Melissa reported the marks to her
family safety, risk, and permanency (FSRP) provider,
explaining it was a "carpet burn" caused by
Melissa's older son, A.S.,  pulling J.O. by his legs in the
play area at the mall. A doctor at the Child Protection
Center, who examined J.O., was skeptical of Melissa's
explanation given the softness of the play-area surface and
the lack of injury to J.O.'s spine. The doctor also
noticed a bruise on the back of J.O.'s ear consistent
with pinching or pulling. The same social worker completed
another child-abuse assessment based on the second incident,
which again resulted in a founded report of child abuse for
failure to provide adequate supervision. On April 22, 2014,
at the DHS's request, the juvenile court ordered J.O. to
be placed in foster care. The court also ordered J.O. to be
tested for illegal substances; the results were positive for
spring and early summer of 2014, Melissa lost headway in her
efforts to reunify with J.O. She relapsed on drugs and missed
visits with her son. She resumed her relationship with Jason
and became pregnant with C.O. During the month of J.O.'s
removal, Melissa was arrested for driving while barred. And
on June 21, 2014, Jason was arrested for domestic-abuse
assault causing injury after Melissa, who had abrasions on
her neck, reported to police the couple's argument had
re-entered residential substance-abuse treatment on August
11, 2014. She was discharged successfully from the facility
and began working with aftercare services. The DHS agreed to
increase the duration of Melissa's visitation to three
hours a session, while the court found Jason would need to
meet with a service provider before reinstating his fully
was born in December 2014. Although Melissa admitted using
cocaine during her pregnancy, C.O.'s drug screen was
negative at birth. The DHS immediately requested C.O.'s
removal based on Melissa's history of substance abuse and
founded child-abuse reports, as well as her lack of stable
housing and employment. The juvenile court adjudicated C.O. a
month after C.O.'s removal, on January 12, 2015, the
State filed a petition to terminate Melissa and Jason's
parental rights to J.O. The following week, Melissa
transitioned to semi-supervised visitation with the children.
But less than a month later, J.O. returned from a visit with
unexplained scratches on his neck. This prompted the DHS to
establish a protocol with Melissa and daycare ...