IN THE INTEREST OF R.T., Minor Child, R.T., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Julie A.
incarcerated father appeals an order terminating his parental
relationship with his four-year-old son.
Theresa Rachel of Fankhauser Rachel, P.L.C., Sioux City, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ana Dixit, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
W. Kertels of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, guardian ad
litem for minor child.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.
incarcerated father, Roel, appeals the termination of his
parental relationship with his four-year-old son, R.T. He
argues the State failed to offer clear and convincing proof
of the elements under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(i) (2017).
After an independent review of the record,  we agree the
State did not meet its burden. Accordingly, we reverse the
termination order and remand for further
Facts and Prior Proceedings
removed R.T. from his mother's care on July 22, 2016,
after she acted erratically at a convenience store in Sloan,
Iowa. Police found the then-three-year-old child in the
mother's car amid piles of discarded food, clothing, and
dirty diapers. Police arrested the mother for child
endangerment. Roel, who was not married to R.T.'s mother
but had been involved with her for many years, was in jail
awaiting sentencing on unrelated charges at the time of
R.T.'s adjudication as a child in need of assistance
(CINA). Roel has remained incarcerated in Nebraska for the
entirety of this child-welfare case and expected to be
released on January 1, 2018.
placed R.T. in foster care with his paternal uncle and aunt,
who immediately took the child for medical and dental
checkups. The guardian ad litem (GAL) submitted a July 29,
2016 report from the pediatrician who found the child was
"well nourished." The GAL also submitted a report
from the dental office. R.T.'s dental surgeon found
twelve of the child's twenty teeth had cavities, causing
R.T. considerable pain. Four teeth needed crowns, two needed
fillings, and six needed to be extracted due to the size of
the cavity or infection. R.T. required general anesthesia for
the comprehensive dental treatments in early August 2016.
Because R.T.'s front teeth were extracted, he had to use
a pediatric partial denture to help him speak and eat. The
surgeon opined the amount of infection and extent of decay
indicated R.T.'s "cavities had been present for an
extended period of time and should have been noted and
addressed much sooner than they were."
remained in the care of his paternal uncle and aunt through
the duration of the CINA case, by all accounts integrating
well into their busy household. Although he was incarcerated,
Roel took advantage of parenting classes, as well as
substance-abuse and mental-health treatment offered by the
Nebraska Department of Corrections. R.T. had sporadic
telephone contact with Roel during the pendency of the case,
and Roel sent letters to R.T. But the DHS did not offer Roel
any in-person visitation with his son.
requested that the State provide reasonable efforts toward
reunification with R.T., "including phone calls,
letters, and in-person visits at the prison." In
response, on November 18, 2016, the State asked the juvenile
court to waive its requirement to provide reasonable efforts
as to both the mother and father. See Iowa Code
§ 232.102(12) (permitting court to waive the
reasonable-efforts requirement if it "determines by
clear and convincing evidence that aggravated circumstances
exist, " which include a finding the circumstances under
section 232.116(1)(i) have been satisfied). The district
court declined to find aggravated circumstances warranting
waiver. Still, the DHS did not offer Roel visitation with
January 18, 2017, the State filed a petition to terminate the
parental rights of both the mother and father. The paternal
grandparents and a paternal aunt filed motions to intervene
in the termination proceedings. The juvenile court addressed
the motions to intervene at the ...