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In re T.W.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF T.W., Minor Child, A.P., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Carroll County, Adria Kester, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the juvenile court order terminating the parental relationship with her two-year-old son.

          Kevin E. Hobbs, West Des Moines, for appellant.

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

          Jessica L. Morton of Bruner, Bruner & Reinhart, L.L.P., Carroll, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Angela's addiction to methamphetamine and abuse of prescription painkillers resulted in her son T.W. being twice removed from her care and adjudicated as a child in need of assistance (CINA). The second CINA case ended in the termination of her parental rights. Angela appeals the juvenile court's termination ruling, alleging she has successfully engaged in treatment and has demonstrated parenting strengths. Our independent review of the record reveals unaddressed risks posed by Angela's substance abuse that prevent her from safely resuming care of T.W.[1] Accordingly, we affirm the termination ruling.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         T.W. was born in February 2015 with methamphetamine in his system- prompting the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) to remove him from his mother's care and adjudicate him as a CINA. The DHS approved a trial home placement in November 2015 and closed the CINA case in February 2016. But five days later, the DHS discovered Angela was abusing prescription medication-Oxycodone pills and Fentanyl patches-while caring for T.W. Case workers implemented a safety plan, including twice-daily drop-in services. One month later, Angela was found unresponsive in her apartment after a medication overdose. One-year-old T.W. was found alone in the hallway. A child protection assessment resulted in a founded report for the denial of critical care. The DHS again removed T.W. from his mother's care, placed him with maternal grandparents, and opened a new CINA case in April 2016.

         Angela sought substance-abuse treatment in the summer of 2016. But by her own admission, because it was outpatient treatment, she "was sneaking and using here and there." Angela started inpatient substance-abuse treatment at the YWCA in October 2016. She stayed drug-free for two months.

         In a November 2016 permanency order, the juvenile court continued placement of T.W. for "an additional period of up to six months" under Iowa Code section 232.104(2)(b) (2016) to allow Angela more time to achieve reunification. The DHS placed T.W. with Angela at the YWCA for an extended trial-home visit in December 2016. Soon after gaining unsupervised visitation with T.W., Angela relapsed on methamphetamine while meeting up with T.W.'s father. In early 2017, the DHS case workers learned Angela was pregnant with her fourth child; when that child, T.P., was born in April 2017, he tested positive for amphetamines.[2]

         The State filed a petition for termination of parental rights in May 2017. Despite the pending termination action, the DHS allowed Angela an extended unsupervised visitation in early June. Just two days into the visitation, a police officer discovered T.W. sleeping unattended in a locked car outside of Angela's workplace. The officer knew the location to be a high-crime area of Fort Dodge. The officer reported fifteen minutes passed before he could locate Angela. Angela insisted she was gone only four minutes and T.W. was not in danger because she cracked the windows and parked in the shade. The DHS removed the child and placed him in his grandparents' care. DHS social worker Molli Mandernach testified she was "very alarmed" by Angela's decision and believed Angela would have been "extra vigilant" during the trial-home placement. Mandernach aptly described the unfortunate phenomenon: "Every time I've attempted to begin expanding her contact with him on an unsupervised basis, it has not worked, we've gotten ourselves into a dangerous situation."

         The juvenile court held a combined permanency and termination-of-parental-rights hearing on June 22 and August 10, 2017. Angela testified about her addiction to methamphetamine, asserting she had "six months and five days clean." But she also acknowledged last using Fentanyl in May 2017 and using Hydrocodone just two days before the hearing. Angela also discussed receiving mental-health counseling for depression and anxiety. Mandernach recommended ...

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