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In re S.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF S.F. and T.F., Minor Children, N.F., Father, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Louise M. Jacobs, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the juvenile court order removing his children following adjudication.

          Jessica Maffitt of Benzoni Law Office, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Paul L. White of Juvenile Public Defender Office, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         The juvenile court decided six-year-old S.F. and three-year-old T.F. could not remain in the family home because their parents were failing to meet their nutritional, emotional, and medical needs and were not providing a safe and stable environment. Their father, Nicholas, appeals the removal on three grounds. First, he claims the juvenile court violated his right to due process by refusing to postpone the removal hearing so he could investigate claims made in a recently disclosed letter from S.F.'s pediatrician. Second, he claims removal was not the least restrictive disposition. Third, he asserts removal was not in the children's best interests. After reviewing the record, [1] we conclude Nicholas did not preserve error on his constitutional claim. On the substance of the removal, we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court-placing the children outside the home is necessary to protect them from harm and serves their best interests.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         S.F.'s medical needs lie at the heart of this case. She suffers from Trisomy 13, a chromosomal disorder associated with severe intellectual and physical disabilities; she requires both a feeding tube and a breathing tube. In February 2016, the court found the parents, Nicholas and Jazmine, were neglecting her medical care. The court also found the parents were not tending to the hygiene and feeding of T.F., her younger brother. The court adjudicated both S.F. and T.F. as children in need of assistance (CINA). T.F. remained with his parents, but upon the recommendation of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), the court removed S.F. from the family home for eleven months.

         By February 2017, the parents had made sufficient progress to address S.F.'s special needs at home-with the help of a visiting nurse service. But within a few months of her return to the home, the DHS had renewed concerns about the children's care. The case worker informed the court the parents were not properly feeding S.F. and were not attending her many appointments, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy. According to the DHS, the parents also were struggling with supervising both S.F. and T.F., as well as a new infant sibling.[2] In the fall, Jazmine moved out, leaving all three children with Nicholas. On August 21, 2017, the court scheduled a removal hearing for October 16.

         Shortly before the removal hearing, the DHS received a letter from S.F.'s pediatrician outlining concerns about S.F.'s care at home. The letter alleged the girl's nurse was taking her to medical appointments instead of Nicholas and Nicholas was not changing S.F.'s diaper for up to twelve hours. The letter also repeated the nursing agency's concern that Nicholas was not properly feeding S.F. The letter also raised safety concerns, stating when the nurse arrived in the mornings Nicholas was not awake but the door was unlocked.

         The juvenile court ordered S.F. and T.F removed from the home and set a review hearing for February 2018. Nicholas then brought this appeal.

          II. Analysis of ...


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