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In re L.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 22, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF L.S. and D.S., Minor Children, M.M., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Jason A. Burns, District Associate Judge.

         A mother with a history of substance abuse and mental-health issues appeals the termination of her parental rights to two young daughters. AFFIRMED.

          Rachel C.B. Antonuccio of Public Defender's Office, Iowa City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and John B. McCormally, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Anthony A. Haughton of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         A mother, Melony, appeals the termination of her parental relationship with her two daughters, three-year-old L.S. and two-year-old D.S. Bruising around the ears of the youngest girl drew the attention of authorities. Once the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) took custody of the girls, Melony never made enough progress to have them returned. On appeal, Melony challenges the statutory grounds for termination and argues the juvenile court's action harmed the children because of their close bond with her. Melony seeks an additional six months to work toward reunification, or, in the alternative, a guardianship for the children with her sister.

         After independently reviewing the record, we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court regarding termination of Melony's parental rights.[1] Melony cannot safely parent her daughters given her persistent substance abuse and untreated mental-health issues. Crediting the opinions of the social workers, we doubt whether a reprieve of six months would make a difference; nor do we find this case is appropriate for a guardianship. Accordingly, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The DHS took notice of Melony's family in August 2016 after she brought D.S. to a doctor to inspect bruising on and around the toddler's ears. After testing for medical conditions that could cause bruising, the examining doctor concluded D.S's injuries resulted from physical abuse.[2] The older sister, L.S., showed no similar signs of physical abuse. Initially, Melony blamed her live-in paramour for D.S.'s injuries.

         The DHS case plan allowed the children to stay with relatives. But just days later, Melony removed the children from the relative's care without notifying her DHS caseworker. As a result, the DHS requested removal and placed the children in family foster care. While in Melony's care, both children were exposed to marijuana, according to a hair test. Melony also tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine. The juvenile court adjudicated L.S. and D.S. as children in need of assistance in September 2016 under Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(b), 232.2(6)(c)(2), and 232.2(6)(o)(2016). The children remained in foster care; Melony stayed with her parents. To achieve reunification, the court expected Melony to seek treatment for substance abuse and emotional issues and to find employment and stable housing.

         At first, Melony made progress. She began working at Arby's. She obtained a driver's license. She participated in family treatment court. She sought substance-abuse treatment, graduated from an outpatient program, and was methamphetamine free during October and November of 2016. But after the DHS approved Melony's mother and stepfather for family foster care, Melony was forced to find new housing and chose to move back in with her paramour. In December, Melony witnessed a person's death and began using methamphetamine as a means to cope with the trauma. At this time, Melony admitted she likely caused the injuries to D.S.'s ears, claiming the bruising occurred when she repositioned the child's head while styling her hair. Melony blamed the severity of the bruising on a combination of the hairstyling and L.S. kicking D.S. repeatedly in the head.

         Melony continued using methamphetamine. Though she eventually sought residential treatment, she left the facility after one day. When she expressed an interest in returning, the treatment facility required Melony to provide a letter from her psychiatrist stating she was emotionally stable enough to begin treatment. Melony did not satisfy that requirement. She continued to use methamphetamine intermittently over the next several months. After Melony tested positive for marijuana, she accused the DHS of tampering with the results to provoke her and limit her visitation with the children. She claims the DHS's misdeeds prompted her to relapse on ...


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