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In re C.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 27, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF C.H., Minor Child, B.H., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Louise M. Jacobs, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals an order terminating her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

          John Hardy, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Karl Wolle of the Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Des Moines, for minor child.

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

          MULLINS, Judge.

         A mother appeals a juvenile court order terminating her parental rights to her child, C.H., born in 2016.[1] She argues the juvenile court erred in terminating her parental rights, concluding termination was in the best interest of the child, and declining to apply a statutory exception to termination.[2]

         The mother and child came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in July 2016 upon information that the mother and other occupants of the family residence were using methamphetamine while caring for the child. DHS discovered the mother was the subject of an active arrest warrant. The mother was arrested, and an order removing the child from her legal custody was entered. Shortly thereafter, the child tested positive for methamphetamine exposure. The child was adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA) in August 2016. In June 2017, the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) and (l) (2017).

         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).

         As noted, the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) and (l). "On appeal, we may affirm the juvenile court's termination order on any ground that we find supported by clear and convincing evidence." In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 707 (Iowa 2010).

         Under section 232.116(1)(h), the court may terminate parental rights if it finds the State has proved by clear and convincing evidence the child (1) is three years of age or younger; (2) has been adjudicated 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 only challenges the State's establishment of the final element. She argues, because of the stability she has attained and the progress she has made with her substance-abuse issues, the juvenile court should have concluded the child could have been safely returned to her at the time of the termination hearing.

         The mother has a lengthy history of illegal substance abuse, criminal behavior, and surrounding herself with individuals who engage in the same. At the time of the termination hearing, the mother was undergoing inpatient- recovery treatment at Clearview Recovery as a condition of her probation in a criminal matter. She had completed six weeks of the four-to-six-month program and was on "stage one" of three stages. She obviously had a long way to go in the program, and whether she would be successful was yet to be seen, especially in light of her prior completion of other substance-abuse programs, all of which were followed by relapse upon her return to the community. Apparently based on the mother's initial progress at Clearview, one of the substance-abuse counselors testified that, at the time of the hearing, the mother was ready to progress to semi-supervised visits with the child rather than fully-supervised visits. The mother also testified to her belief that she was ready to "progress" the child back into her care by transitioning ...


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