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In re B.T.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF B.T., Minor Child, N.T., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Romonda D. Belcher, District Associate Judge.

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

          Bridget M. Bott of Bott Law Office, P.L.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Erin E. Mayfield of the Youth Law Center, Des Moines, for minor child.

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

          MULLINS, Judge.

         A mother appeals from the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to her child, B.T., born in 2015.[1] She argues the State failed to prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence and the juvenile court erred in determining termination was in B.T.'s best interest.

         The family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in January 2015, shortly after B.T. was born with a congenital heart defect and only one kidney. The parents were homeless, with an ongoing history of homelessness, and a history of domestic violence. The mother had a history of not being able to meet her own medical needs throughout her pregnancy and was being treated for scabies. While the parents were staying at the hospital with B.T., they and B.T. were found to have lice and were treated.

         In May 2017, the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2016). We review termination-of-parental-rights proceedings de novo. In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). "We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, but we do give them weight, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses." Id. (quoting In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014)). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child. In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006).

         Under section 232.116(1)(h), the court may terminate parental rights if the court finds the State has proved by clear and convincing evidence the child (1) is three years of age or younger; (2) has been adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA); (3) has been removed from the physical custody of the parent for at least six of the last twelve months, or the last six consecutive months and any trial period at home has been less than thirty days; and (4) cannot be returned to the parent's custody at the time of the termination hearing.

         The mother does not dispute the State proved the first three elements required under section 232.116(1)(h): at the time of the termination hearing, the child was under the age of three, had been adjudicated CINA in March 2015, and had been removed from the mother's physical custody since March 2015 without any trial periods at home. The mother argues, however, the State failed to prove the fourth element: the child could not be returned to her custody at the time of the termination hearing. Following the termination hearing in April 2017, the juvenile court found:

The child has extensive medical needs and despite the mother having completed the necessary training to care for the child, the mother has not been able to demonstrate an ability to do so if the child were returned to her home today. The mother is not aware of child's specific medical needs or necessary feeding. Further, the mother has not adequately addressed her mental health or domestic violence issues to prevent any further adjudicatory harm if the child were to be returned today.

         Although the mother reported she has been compliant with taking her medication to treat her borderline personality disorder diagnosis, she admitted at trial that during the nearly two-year duration of DHS involvement she had not been going to mental-health therapy to address her borderline personality disorder as recommended by DHS, but she claimed to have an upcoming appointment. She admitted she has a significant history of being the victim of domestic violence but at the time of trial had been unable to arrange for any help to address how to break a long cycle of repeated violent relationships. The mother acknowledged B.T. requires extra assistance with eating but was not aware of the child's current feeding level, ...


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