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In re A.R.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 20, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF A.R., M.A., and H.R., Minor Children, J.C., Mother, Appellant, E.A., Father of M.A., Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Crawford County, Mary L. Timko, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights.

          Thomas E. Gustafson of Gustafson Law Firm, Denison, for appellant mother.

          Martha A. Sibbel of Law Office of Martha Sibbel, P.L.C, Carroll, for appellant father of M.A.

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

          Kara L. Minnihan, Onawa, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Jessica, appeals the juvenile court's statutory basis for terminating her parental relationship with three children-A.R., M.A., and H.R.- ages three, six and nine.[1] M.A.'s father, Edward, also appeals the termination of his parental rights, claiming the State did not make reasonable efforts toward reunification. After reviewing the available record, [2] we conclude the juvenile court correctly decided the children could not be safely returned to Jessica's care, a guardianship was not the right solution, and the State made reasonable efforts to reunify Edward and M.A.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Jessica first encountered the Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2009 when H.R., the oldest child, was just eleven months old. Since then, the DHS has launched eight investigations related to Jessica's children. Three investigations- including the most recent one-related to Jessica's drug use.

         Most recently, the DHS intervened after learning of domestic abuse occurring in Jessica's home and in front of the children. In March 2016, the children witnessed Jessica's then-paramour, Ben, hit her. Eventually the children hid in a closet and an extended family member was forced to climb through a window to reach them. Initially the children hesitated to discuss Ben's actions because Jessica told them they would be taken away if they did. After reassurances from the DHS worker, seven-year-old H.R. and four-year-old M.A. described seeing Ben strangle Jessica, strike her on the head, and throw her to the ground. Around that same time, Jessica completed a drug screen and tested positive for methamphetamine. The children were removed from the home. In April 2016, the juvenile court notified the fathers of the children's removal and scheduled a hearing. Relying on Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2), the juvenile court adjudicated A.R., M.A., and H.R. as children in need of assistance (CINA) in May 2016.

         After the children were removed, Jessica ended her relationship with Ben and entered mental-health and substance-abuse therapy. She also regularly attended visits with the children. But M.A.'s father, Edward, did not remain in contact with the DHS after April 2016. He also did not contact the family safety, risk, and permanency (FSRP) worker in charge of scheduling visitation and did not return the worker's calls.

         The children entered foster care and, in mid-July, the children's foster dad reported H.R. tried to strangle herself with a mini-blind cord and said she wanted to kill herself.

         By the fall 2016, Jessica's recovery took a turn for the worse. Between April and October, Jessica missed one-half of her scheduled mental-health therapy sessions. The treatment center required her to complete a "Strategies for Success" group before resuming therapy. Jessica also moved to Dow City, despite the transportation difficulties posed by the new location.[3] She also began dating a new paramour, Trent, with a criminal history, though she denied living with him. When H.R. was admitted to a pediatric psychiatric facility in November, Jessica did not go with her.

         Edward began communicating with a DHS worker in December 2016. The worker encouraged Edward to attend an upcoming family team meeting either in person or by phone, but the meeting notes show Edward did not participate. Edward also did not attend the family team meeting in January 2017 and did not respond to attempts by an FSRP worker to set up visitation.

         Meanwhile, H.R.'s December psychiatric progress report also revealed troubling information-when scared or nervous H.R. dissociated by acting like a dinosaur and expressing herself through noises.

         Jessica also struggled in December 2016 and tested positive for methamphetamine. By February, Jessica's substance-abuse therapy report was poor. She only attended one of three individual therapy sessions in the ...


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