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In re A.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF A.F., A.M., and A.M., Minor Children, C.F., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her three children.

          Judy D. Johnson of Borseth Law Office, Altoona, for appellant mother.

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

          Nicole Garbis-Nolan of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother of three, Crystal, experienced more than two years of up-and-down progress with issues of substance abuse, mental health, and codependency. When she missed visitation, therapy appointments, and drug screens in June and July of 2017, the juvenile court terminated her parental rights to two-year-old Ar.M., four-year-old Al.M., and ten-year-old A.F.[1] She appeals the termination, alleging (1) insufficient evidence of the statutory grounds, (2) termination was not in the children's best interests, and (3) termination would be detrimental to the children due to the closeness of the parent-child relationship.

         After examining the record, [2] we find clear and convincing evidence supporting termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) and (h) (2017). Further, the children's best interests-as framed in section 232.116(2)-are served by moving forward with a safe, permanent placement. Finally, while the children have a significant bond with their mother, her continued instability poses more of a detriment to the children than termination of her parental rights. See Iowa Code § 232.116(3).

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) first investigated this family in January 2015 because authorities suspected the father, Cody, of selling illicit drugs from their home when A.F. and Al.M. were present. Both Cody and Crystal denied the allegations. The next month, February 2015, Crystal delivered Ar.M., who tested positive for methamphetamine at birth. In March 2015, police arrested Cody for domestic abuse assault after he threatened Crystal with a knife. Also in March, the juvenile court ordered all three children to be removed from Crystal's care and, in April, adjudicated them as children in need of assistance (CINA).

         After the children's removal, Crystal attended substance-abuse treatment, support meetings, and visitation. By October 2015, the juvenile court felt comfortable enough with her progress to return the children to her care. The DHS kept providing supervision and services to the family. Crystal continued with a full-time job and stable housing into the first half of 2016.

         But in July 2016, the DHS case worker learned Crystal had been allowing contact between Cody and the children, which was not authorized. At the time of the contact, Cody was "on the run" from a community corrections facility. The DHS also found Crystal had been leaving A.F. at home alone. The DHS asked for a second removal of the three children to foster care, which was granted by the juvenile court. In the fall of 2016, the juvenile court noted Crystal's substance abuse was an ongoing need, but that she was "well engaged" in services. The court expressed concern about Crystal's ability to "be protective and supervise the children."

         In a March 2017 permanency order, the juvenile court believed Crystal was still "making progress" but identified Cody's upcoming release from prison (anticipated in about six weeks) as "a significant event impacting the potential safety and planned-for reunification of the children" with Crystal. The DHS case worker grew worried in the spring of 2017 when Crystal turned to alcohol to deal with the loss of her father. Intoxicated at a tavern, Crystal accidentally contacted the case worker late in ...


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