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In re N.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 16, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF N.G., Minor Child, S.P., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Cheryl E. Traum, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her daughter.

          Steven W. Stickle of Stickle Law Firm, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Jennifer M. Olsen of Olsen Law Office, Davenport, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.

          VOGEL, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         The mother of a twelve-year-old girl appeals the termination of her parental rights. She asserts the grounds for termination were not proved because the State failed to provide reasonable services for reunification. She also asserts she should be given additional time to work towards reunification and that the establishment of a guardianship is in the child's best interests and preferable to termination. We find the district court appropriately terminated the mother's parental rights and affirm.[1]

         The family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in September 2015, upon concerns N.G. was the victim of sexual abuse by her mother's then-paramour. Upon further investigation, and later after N.G. participated in counseling services, it was discovered two of the mother's previous boyfriends had also sexually abused N.G., with the mother offering no intervention to cease the abuse. Even after learning of the most recent abuse, the mother chose to leave N.G. unsupervised in the paramour's care overnight. The mother eventually married the abuser.

         N.G. was removed from the family home in Davenport in October 2015 and placed in the care of her maternal aunt in Dubuque. N.G. was adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA) in February 2016. With the mother's lack of consistent compliance with offered services, the matter proceeded to termination, with a contested hearing held on June 1, 2017.

         We review termination-of-parental-rights proceedings de novo. In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d 489, 492 (Iowa 2000).

         The mother does not contest the district court's specific findings under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) and (i) (2017) but rather claims the DHS failed to offer reasonable services such that the grounds were not proven by clear and convincing evidence. See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010) (stating we need not review the unchallenged portions of the district court's decision). We agree the State must show reasonable efforts as a part of its ultimate proof the child cannot be safely returned to the care of a parent. C.B., 611 N.W.2d at 493. In considering the sufficiency of evidence to support termination, the reviewing court's focus is on the services provided by the State and the response by the parent. Id. at 494 (emphasis added).

         In this case, by late April 2016, the mother had moved to Dubuque. In a September 9, 2016 report to the court, the DHS case worker noted the mother was not complying with offered services; she had not yet completed the psychological evaluation, and although she was offered twice-weekly visits with N.G., the mother was not consistent in attending nor taking advantage of expanded weekend visitation. The worker noted that in approximately June 2016 the mother "began to express an interest in allowing [the maternal aunt] to become [N.G.'s] legal guardian. She commented that it is what [N.G.] wants. She stated there is not much purpose in going through 'all these steps' if [N.G.] wants to stay with [the aunt]." Although the mother did request a change of venue to Dubuque County at the September 19, 2016 review hearing, the district court denied the request, reasoning "the guardian ad litem, DHS worker, and provider are all familiar with the parties and the child's needs."

         As it appeared the mother had resigned herself to having N.G. remain with the aunt, and the mother had failed to participate in offered services or take advantage of the visitation offered, we find the district court's decision fully supported by the record. Moreover, the interim DHS reports, as well as the testimony at the termination hearing, recounted the mother was offered transportation, should she commit to attending offered services. As such, the ...


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