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In re N.D.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF N.D. & D.B., Minor Children, V.D, Mother, Appellant.

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

         A mother appeals an order terminating her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

          Robb D. Goedicke of Cooper, Goedicke, Reimer & Reese Law Firm, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Brent M. Pattison of Drake Legal Clinic, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          MULLINS, Judge.

         A mother appeals a juvenile court order terminating her parental rights to her two children, N.D. and D.B., born in 2007 and 2010, respectively. She contends (1) the State failed to prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence; (2) termination was not in the best interests of the children; and (3) a statutory exception should have precluded termination.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The mother came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in November 2014 upon information that her paramour was using methamphetamine (meth) in the home and had cared for the children while under the influence of the same. The mother also tested positive for meth. It was also determined that the children's maternal grandmother was supervising them while under the influence of meth.

         The mother continued to have a relationship with her paramour despite signing a safety plan in which she agreed to ostracize her paramour from her children. The State filed child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) petitions as to both children and applied for removal. On January 22, 2015, the juvenile court ordered the children be placed in the legal custody of DHS. In February, the court modified its removal order and placed the children with their maternal grandfather. In March the children were adjudicated CINA. In June, due to the mother's progress in sobriety and cooperation with services, the State moved to have the children returned to their mother under DHS supervision. The court granted the motion on June 18. Less than a month later, however, the State moved to have placement of the children returned to their maternal grandfather, noting, among other things, the mother's recent positive test for meth and her lack of involvement in therapy. Following a contested modification hearing, the mother was allowed to retain custody of the children but was subjected to additional restrictions and required to comply with additional services.

         In September 2015, the State again moved for modification of placement due to another positive test for meth use. On September 3, the juvenile court granted the motion, removed the children from the mother's custody, and returned them to the custody of their maternal grandfather. As a result of the maternal grandfather's struggles in transporting the children, the children were subsequently placed with a family friend, B.F. Following a permanency hearing in January 2016, the juvenile court granted the mother a six-month extension to address her substance-abuse issues through treatment, demonstrate an ability to maintain a sober lifestyle, and make healthy relationship choices. Three days later, it was discovered the mother tested positive for meth. In April, the mother again tested positive for meth. Later in April, the juvenile court modified placement of the children, placing them with another family friend, M.B. On July 8, the juvenile court returned the children to the mother's custody.

         In November 2016, there was a suspicious explosive fire at the family home that burned down the garage. The mother was present at the home at the time of the fire but did not call the fire department or law enforcement. During a subsequent search of the home, police officers found a glass pipe with white residue and a plastic bag containing what was believed to be meth. The mother admitted those items belonged to her. A "friend" of the mother's, K.K., was injured during the fire, and while being treated at the hospital, he tested positive for meth. At this time, K.K. was also the subject of two arrest warrants. K.K. referred to the mother as his wife while being treated. In a subsequent interview with law enforcement, the mother conceded K.K. used to cook meth. Officers also observed signs of recent drug use on the mother's person. Law enforcement believed the garage fire resulted from a meth-lab explosion, but because the explosion destroyed the scene, evidence was unavailable to verify the same. The mother was subjected to a subsequent hair-stat drug test and provided negative results. The juvenile court, however, noted its concern that the mother had just colored her hair, which could cause a false-negative result. The mother agreed to stay away from K.K. and re-engage in services. The juvenile court allowed the mother to maintain custody of the children but subjected her to additional restrictions.

         In January 2017, DHS issued a founded child-abuse report in relation to the mother allowing K.K. to supervise the children alone. Later that month, the mother was arrested and charged with interference with official acts and aiding and abetting a fugitive from justice. That day, she resisted and obstructed United States Marshalls and local law enforcement in their effort to execute an arrest warrant on K.K. by refusing to allow them into her home, where K.K. was located. On January 18, the juvenile court removed the children from the mother's care and placed them with M.B. The next day, ...

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