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In re L.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 2, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF L.C., Minor Child, K.L., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas J. Straka, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her one-year-old son.

          Taryn R. Purcell of Clemens, Walters, Conlon, Runde & Hiatt, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellant mother.

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

          Patricia M. Reisen-Ottavi of Ottavi Law Firm, Dubuque, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         A mother, Kara, is again before our court challenging the termination of her parental rights. At issue today is one-year-old L.C. Two months ago, we affirmed the juvenile court's termination of Kara's parental relationship with three older children based on her continuing struggle with addiction. See In re K.L., No. 17-0346, 2017 WL 2465817, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. June 7, 2017) (opining "[m]ethamphetamine is a scourge"). After independently reviewing this record, [1]we conclude Kara's bid for reunification with L.C. also must fail.

         In this appeal, Kara poses four questions: (I) did the State prove a statutory ground for termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2017) by clear and convincing evidence? (II) did the juvenile court err in denying her request for a six-month extension? (III) was termination in L.C.'s best interests? and (IV) did the court err in denying her reasonable-efforts motion? We answer them respectively: yes, no, yes, no. Accordingly, we affirm the juvenile court's termination order.[2]

         Parents Kara and Douglas share a "chaotic and unstable history, " according to a case manager for the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). Kara has been the victim of domestic violence perpetrated by Douglas. In addition, Kara has been abusing methamphetamine for more than ten years. These issues led to the removal of her three older children. The DHS case plan for Kara did not allow Douglas to be at her residence if the children were present.

         L.C. was born in May 2016. At that time, Kara was living at the Maria House, a transitional housing initiative, and was participating in outpatient substance-abuse treatment. She also began a trial home placement with the three older children. In August she moved to her own apartment in Dyersville with the four children. She successfully discharged from substance-abuse treatment in September 2016.

         Then in October, everything fell apart. Douglas moved into the apartment in violation of the DHS safety plan. The neighbors heard screaming and fighting. Kara and others repeatedly called the police to report domestic violence. Douglas and Kara used methamphetamine together. Kara and L.C., then five months old, both tested positive for the drug. All four children were removed from Kara's care. Douglas was incarcerated on November 1, 2016.

         In the following months, Kara had supervised visitation with the children. During a visitation in December 2016, the social worker asked to do a walkthrough in Kara's home. Kara then disclosed she had been out drinking with a man the night before, he stayed overnight in her bedroom, and he had not left before the scheduled 11:00 a.m. visitation. Kara was not truthful with the DHS about the man's identity. An even more alarming incident occurred at Kara's home in January 2016. Kara reported another man "allegedly overdosed at her apartment." These incidents led the DHS case worker to believe that even with Douglas out of the picture, Kara was exercising bad judgment in her relationships. Also in January, Kara received a recommendation that she undergo inpatient substance-abuse treatment.

         In early February 2017, the juvenile court terminated Kara's parental rights to her three older children. This development hit Kara hard. In late February, she tried to enroll in two different substance-abuse treatment centers but left both inpatient facilities the same day she arrived. Kara later blamed her lack of commitment on her teetering mental health:[3] "I felt completely hopeless. I had just went through a termination hearing on my children. Mentally, I just wasn't-I wasn't okay." She was in jail on a probation violation for most of March 2017 and did not have visitation with L.C. The court modified her bond so that she could attend treatment. From jail, she was transferred to a psychiatric unit at the local hospital and from there to an inpatient treatment program.

         One day after her admission to treatment, on April 4, 2017, the State filed a petition to terminate her parental relationship with L.C. About three weeks later, her attorney filed a motion for continuance and extension of permanency, citing her compliance with substance-abuse treatment and her intent to discharge to Heart of Iowa, a facility where L.C. could be placed with her while she continued treatment. On May 5, her attorney filed a "motion for reasonable efforts, " requesting L.C. be placed in Kara's care when she was ...

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