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In re B.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 22, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF B.G., B.L., and T.H., Minor Children, K.G., Mother, Appellant, R.L., Father, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Susan C. Cox, District Associate Judge.

         The mother and one of the fathers appeal from the termination of their parental rights.

          Thomas G. Crabb, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Cathleen J. Siebrecht of Siebrecht Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellant father.

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

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.


         The mother's parental rights were terminated to three of her five children.[1]At issue in this appeal are B.L., born in 2008; B.G., born in 2009; and T.H., born in 2012. B.L.'s father also appeals the termination of his parental rights.[2]

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The mother is no stranger to interactions with the Iowa Department of Humans Services (DHS). As a child, she was involved with the department due her mother's use of methamphetamine and other drugs. As a parent, the mother came to the attention of DHS before the present proceedings began in 2013. In 2009, DHS made a founded report for child abuse after the mother was arrested for underage drinking and possession of drug paraphernalia; DHS learned the mother had taken B.L. to a known drug house a number of times. The mother was also having trouble with B.L.'s father and alleged domestic violence.

         DHS was again involved with the family in 2011 when the mother's third child, M.V., was born prematurely and died soon after. At the time of his birth, the umbilical cord and the mother's urine were tested for THC; both showed a positive result. The mother admitted to using marijuana while pregnant with M.V. but denied either B.L. or B.G. was in her care at the time. She also reported she was no longer in a relationship with M.V.'s father, stating he had been domestically violent to her in the past and then again recently. She did not notify the police.

         In 2013, R.T. was born to the mother and a fifth father. R.T. was born prematurely and struggled with respiratory and feeding issues. When R.T. was approximately three months old, he was rushed to the emergency room while in acute distress. After extensive medical testing, doctors determined someone had violently shaken R.T., inflicting serious head trauma including brain bleeds and retinal hemorrhages. R.T. was flown from Des Moines to Iowa City and underwent emergency neurosurgery. R.T.'s father admitted he was caring for the child (in the mother's home) immediately before R.T. quit breathing. R.T.'s father was charged with child endangerment causing serious injury and was later found guilty.

         The mother refused to believe the medical evidence that R.T.'s injuries were the result of being shaken and refused to comply with the no-contact order prohibiting contact between her and the father. The mother admitted she knew R.T.'s father had at least one previous conviction for domestic violence. Still, she maintained contact with him and allowed the children to have contact with R.T.'s father as well.

         As a result, in November 2013, the children's guardian ad litem asked the court to remove the children from the mother based on the "mother's instability and protective concerns due to . . . contact with substance abusers and violating [the no-contact order]." The mother's four living children were removed from her care. T.H., who had been born in 2012, was originally placed in the custody of his father but within a month, T.H. was removed from the father's care and placed with his paternal grandparents.[3]

         The mother completed a mental-health evaluation the same month. She disclosed a history of being physically abused as a child and having one violent romantic relationship. She reported having ended the relationship with R.T.'s father because "he just focused on himself" and did not seem interested in her welfare. The social worker who completed the evaluation recommended the mother "be seen for individual therapy on a weekly basis to address her history with males, development of healthy problem-solving skills, as well as her relationships with parent figures as they may relate to the choices she makes in adult relationships."

         The mother began attending therapy, but she missed at least three consecutive therapy sessions and the therapist discontinued their relationship in February 2014. The mother posted on social media threatening to kill herself. Additionally, contrary to the mother's statements to professionals, there was evidence the mother continued her relationship with R.T.'s father; she violated the no-contact order by talking to him on social media and sending him pictures of the children during visits.

         In October 2014, the mother began seeing her third therapist since DHS involvement began and she also obtained a second mental-health evaluation. In it, the mother was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression and histrionic personality disorder. It was noted the mother had experienced significant cumulative trauma from childhood through the present day and that she addressed her fears of abandonment and being alone "by pursuing relationships with men who have abused her emotionally and physically." The mother had made positive change, including getting a job and financially supporting herself. She was able to verbalize how some of her past choices had negatively impacted the children.

         At the October 2014 permanency hearing, the court granted a six-month extension for the mother to work toward reunification with B.L., B.G., and T.H. and for B.L.'s father to work toward reunification with B.L. T.H. lived with his father under DHS supervision; B.L. and B.G. remained in foster care. The court changed the permanency goal to termination of parental rights regarding the mother and R.T.

         In January 2015, the court terminated the mother's parental rights to R.T. In its written ruling, the juvenile court found the mother's unresolved mental-health issues posed a risk to R.T. and concluded the mother was unable or unwilling to fully participate in the proffered services. ...

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