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In re L.B.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 22, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF L.B., Minor Child, S.B., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E. Seymour, District Associate Judge.

         Mother appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her child pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2017). AFFIRMED.

          Eric W. Manning of Manning Law Office, P.L.L.C., Urbandale, for appellant.

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

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

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

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Shawna, the mother, appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her child pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (f) (2017). This is the second time this matter has been before the court. In a prior appeal, we affirmed the adjudication and disposition orders involving this same family. See In re L.B., No. 16-1520, 2016 WL 6664987, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 9, 2016).

         The court reviews proceedings terminating parental rights de novo. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014). To terminate a parent's rights, the State must first prove a statutory ground authorizing termination of a parent's rights. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1); In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). Next, the State must prove termination of a parent's rights is in the child's best interest. M.W., 876 N.W.2d at 219-20. Finally, the court decides whether permissive considerations in section 232.116(3) should preclude termination of a parent's rights. Id. at 220.

         By way of background, Shawna is the mother of L.B., a child born in 2004. The family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS) in March 2016. There was a report Shawna and her husband, Jason, who is not L.B.'s father, had used methamphetamine in the home while the child was present. There was also a report L.B. had been sexually assaulted by an acquaintance of the couple. When asked about the allegations, L.B. confirmed them. L.B. described drug paraphernalia. The child reported a sexual assault. L.B. also reported a spanking by Jason with a belt, which left lasting bruises. The child was removed from the home and placed with an adult sibling.

         A contested adjudication hearing took place in May and June 2016. Shawna and Jason were homeless and living with a registered sex offender. Neither Shawna nor Jason was employed. Before becoming homeless, they had operated a "street ministry." As part of their ministry, they brought homeless individuals into their home. This included the alleged perpetrator of the sexual assault on L.B. The district court noted indicators of methamphetamine abuse by Shawna and Jason, although they continued to deny use. Shawna had missed multiple visits with L.B. and struggled with being appropriate during visits. She often told L.B. information inappropriate for a child. The court found L.B. to be a child in need of assistance (CINA) and ordered Shawna provide drug screens and undergo a mental-health evaluation and substance-abuse evaluation.

         By the time of the dispositional hearing and review hearing, Shawna had not progressed significantly. She had obtained a stable residence with her mother. However, she had missed nine drug screens, had not started therapy, and despite her assurances to the contrary, appeared to still be in a relationship with Jason. Shawna had not progressed in her relationship with L.B. Shawna was unpredictable and inappropriate around the child.

         At the June 2017 termination hearing, the court heard extensive evidence about the relationship between Shawna and L.B. L.B.'s therapist testified about the child's repeated statements expressing a desire to live with the adult sibling and not with Shawna. The therapist also raised concerns about Shawna harming L.B.'s mental health with her unpredictability and inappropriate comments about things such as L.B.'s weight. Shawna, through her testimony, continued to minimize the issues that led to L.B.'s removal. While Shawna made progress from

          April to June, she acknowledged that she "changed [her] attitude late." Other testimony highlighted missed visits, L.B.'s anxiety over visitation, missed drug screens, and Shawna's frequent excuses for failing to complete IDHS case plan objectives. ...


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