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In re J.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 6, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.S., T.K., & C.K., Minor Children, P.S., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Bremer County, Peter B. Newell, District Associate Judge.

         The mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children, C.K. and T.K., and the permanency order placing her child, J.S., in the sole custody of his father.

          Mark A. Milder of Mark Milder Law Firm, Waverly, for appellant mother.

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

          Linnea Nicol of the Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Waterloo, for minor children.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         The mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children, C.K. and T.K., [1] and the permanency order placing her child, J.S., in the sole custody of his father.[2] The mother asserts the district court erred in giving weight to the mother's hair-stat test results in reaching its determinations. The mother also contends it is in C.K. and T.K.'s best interests to be returned to her care, or in the alternative, to be placed in a guardianship. Because we conclude there are grounds for termination of the mother's parental rights to C.K. and T.K. and for the placement of J.S. in the sole custody of his father, and the court's determinations are in the children's best interests, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

         At the time of the combined termination and permanency hearing, J.S. was fourteen years old, C.K. was eight, and T.K. was seven. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with the family in September 2015 due to concerns of methamphetamine use by the mother. This was not the first time the family had formal interactions with DHS due to methamphetamine-related concerns.[3] The children were removed from the mother's care in December 2015. C.K. and T.K. were placed in family foster care, and J.S. was placed in the sole custody of his father. The children's removal stemmed from the mother's continued use of methamphetamine and the mother's and father to C.K. and T.K.'s continued ties to the drug culture.[4]

         Though the mother obtained substance-abuse and mental-health treatment, consistently attended visitation with the children, and participated in DHS services throughout the pendency of this matter, [5] she was not able to demonstrate honesty about her use of methamphetamine or provide negative hair-stat tests. The mother tested positive for methamphetamine by hair-stat testing on August 5 and September 2, 2016, and January 18, February 22, April 9, June 22, July 3, and August 23, 2017. The last positive hair-stat test was on the second day of the termination and permanency hearing-the district court left the record open for admission of the test results. The mother contended her last use was September 2016; however, a DHS caseworker testified hair-stat testing can only provide positive results if a person has used within the last ninety days.

         When asked at the termination and permanency hearing, the DHS caseworker explained the meaning of the string of hair-stat test results showing methamphetamine in the mother's system:

It meant that from each one of those dates there was a use and what they tell us, train us, what they say, is that for it to show up in a hair-stat there had to be three uses in that 90-day time period. We're not going to catch one use, so what that would tell me is that well, we have consistently had use from January through June.

         The mother argued the hair-stat tests could be coming back positive due to exposure from her environment rather than actual methamphetamine use. The mother pointed out that her urinalysis tests through her substance-abuse treatment at Pathways and those submitted as a part of the mother's probation were negative for illegal substances. The mother submitted twenty-nine urinalysis tests through Pathways and three as a condition of her probation-all negative for illegal substances. However, the DHS caseworker testified the urinalysis tests were submitted in correlation with her scheduled Pathways appointments and two out of three of the tests submitted as part of the mother's probation were scheduled, meaning "of the [thirty-one] tests I talked about that were conducted by Pathways or Corrections, one of those tests w[as] done where [the mother] couldn't have anticipated the probability of testing." The DHS caseworker further testified the window for picking up methamphetamine in a person's system by way of urinalysis is typically only forty-eight hours. The DHS caseworker also testified Pathways does not typically send urinalysis tests to a ...


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