IN THE INTEREST OF A.S., Minor Child. A.S., Mother, Appellant.
review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa
District Court for Monroe County, William S. Owens, District
ad litem of minor child seeks further review of court of
appeals decision that reversed order terminating mother's
F. Bozwell Jr. of Bozwell Law Office, Centerville, for
R. De Vries of De Vries Law Office, PLC, Centerville, for
guardian ad litem. Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and
Ana Dixit, Assitant Attorney General, for appellee.
appeal, we must decide whether the juvenile court erred in
terminating a mother's parental rights. The mother left
her three-month-old daughter with the father she knew was
intoxicated. She returned to find the baby crying with blood
in her diaper and took her to the hospital. Physicians
determined the infant had been sexually abused. The father
was ultimately convicted of that offense and sentenced to
life in prison. Meanwhile, the child was placed in temporary
custody with the maternal grandparents while social workers
with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) provided
services to the mother who remained incapable of caring for
her child alone. Ultimately, the juvenile court found that
the State had proven the grounds for termination of her
parental rights and that termination was in the child's
best interests. The mother appealed. The court of appeals
reversed and remanded the case for the child to remain in the
custody of the grandparents as guardians. One judge
dissented, concluding that court of appeals precedent
disfavored guardianships under these circumstances and that
the juvenile court's termination of the mother's
parental rights should be affirmed. We granted the
application for further review filed by the child's
guardian ad litem and joined by the State.
de novo review and for the reasons explained below, we affirm
the juvenile court judgment and vacate the decision of the
court of appeals. The controlling legislation promotes prompt
permanent placement for young children, and the mother
remains incapable of raising the child safely with no
indication her parenting abilities will sufficiently improve
in the foreseeable future despite the extensive services DHS
social workers have been providing. The juvenile court
correctly rejected the option of a continuing temporary
guardianship with the child's grandparents.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
morning of February 4, 2016, A.S. left her child, who was
less than three months old, in the care of the child's
father, J.S., for approximately two hours. A.S. knew J.S. was
intoxicated. When A.S. returned, she found the father
"passed out" and their baby in a swing shaking and
crying. A.S. noticed blood in their baby's diaper and
with her aunt's help, took the infant to the Monroe
County Hospital emergency room. The baby was promptly
transferred by ambulance to Blank Children's Hospital in
Des Moines, accompanied by A.S.
received a report that the child had been seriously injured
from suspected sexual abuse. Amber Bricker, a child
protection worker from Polk County, spoke with hospital staff
that afternoon. She interviewed A.S., who revealed J.S. had a
history of methamphetamine and alcohol abuse and most
recently his problems involved alcohol. A.S. admitted to
Bricker that she could tell when J.S. had been drinking based
on the way he looked and acted. A.S. acknowledged that when
she left the baby with him, J.S. seemed drunk because his
"eyes were red and his speech was off."
same day, the juvenile court issued an oral ruling removing
the child from the care of A.S and J.S. When Bricker told
A.S. about the order, A.S. agreed to comply. The next day,
A.S. requested that the child be discharged to the care of
A.S.'s parents. The court entered a written ex parte
order temporarily removing the child from the care of both
parents. The court appointed Julie De Vries as attorney and
guardian ad litem for the child.
mid-February, J.S. was arrested on charges of child
endangerment and sexual abuse in the first degree. He has
remained incarcerated since his arrest.
March 14, the juvenile court found the child to be a child in
need of assistance (CINA) pursuant to Iowa Code sections
232.2(6)(c)(2) and (d) (2016). The child
was placed in the legal custody of her maternal grandparents.
A.S. moved into her parents' home and has lived there
with her daughter throughout the case.
completed a psychological assessment on May 11, and the DHS
received a copy of the report on June 7. A.S. was found to be
"mildly intellectually disabled." The assessment
"placed her reading and oral comprehension ability at
the fourth grade level, with her memory ability in the low
average range." The psychologist, Dr. Seth A. Brown,
expressed concern because
[A.S.] did articulate that it was acceptable to leave her
child in the care of an intoxicated individual, as she
believed that individual could decide how to take care of a
child. Background records indicate that she does not appear
to acknowledge the seriousness of the sexual assault and
believes that her husband did not carry out such behavior as
he informed her of this.
Brown concluded, based on extensive background information
and his conversations with A.S., that A.S. "may appear
well-intentioned in regard to the welfare of her daughter,
but at times she does not fully appreciate the complexity of
the issues and potential threats to the welfare of her
provided various services to A.S., including family safety,
risk, and permanency (FSRP) services, family team meetings,
court-ordered supervision for the family, relative care for
the child, and the psychological assessment for A.S. The
caseworker and service providers tailored those services to
accommodate A.S. For example, the FSRP provider used
workbooks with pictures rather than merely handing A.S. the
agency's parenting instruction material to read.
hearings were held on August 8 and November 7. At the August
hearing, the court asked A.S. if she wanted to request
additional services. A.S. did not request a change in
services. At the November review hearing, the juvenile court
noted that A.S.'s visits with the child had progressed to
semisupervised. The court again asked A.S. if she wanted to
request different services, and A.S. again declined.
February 9, 2017, a jury convicted J.S. of child endangerment
and sexual abuse in the first degree. J.S. was sentenced to
serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. His
direct appeal is pending. On February 13, the State filed a
petition to terminate the parental rights of A.S. and J.S.
The DHS, the child's guardian ad litem, and the
court-appointed special advocate (CASA) all recommended
termination of A.S.'s parental rights.
case manager had given the grandparents information on foster
parent training classes in the fall of 2016. The maternal
grandmother initially told the CASA she did not need
parenting classes because she had raised four children, but
would take the classes if the judge ordered her. The
grandparents did not realize that the DHS does concurrent
planning for the child's placement even while focusing on
family reunification. The March 21 CASA report noted that the
maternal grandmother stated that the grandparents wanted to
adopt the child if A.S.'s parental rights were
terminated. By that time, the grandparents had signed up for
the foster parent training classes and were waiting for the
classes to begin.
15, the juvenile court held a hearing on the termination
petition in conjunction with a further permanency hearing.
Three witnesses testified: the DHS case manager, the FSRP
care coordinator, and the CASA. All three witnesses had
worked with the family and observed the family members'
interactions. Dr. Brown did not testify, but his
psychological assessment of A.S. was submitted into evidence.
No member of the child's family testified, and A.S. did
not argue for the exception to termination based on a
relative of the child having legal custody. See Iowa
Code § 232.116(3).
case manager testified regarding her concern that A.S.
thought it was alright to leave the child with J.S. when he
was intoxicated. She also testified that, in her professional
opinion, A.S.'s "intellectual ability prevents her
from being able to safely raise her daughter." She later
reiterated that "it's the Department's opinion
that [A.S.] could not safely raise her daughter."
FSRP care coordinator described the services provided to
A.S., who received several hours of supervised visits weekly.
During these visits, A.S. cared for her child while the care
coordinator provided parenting instruction. A.S. also had
several hours of semisupervised time with the child weekly
during which the care coordinator stopped by periodically to
monitor. In 2017, the care coordinator began providing
additional one-on-one instruction with A.S. The goal was to
allow A.S. to concentrate on learning parenting skills
without the child or other family members present. The care
coordinator testified that in her opinion, A.S. still could
not safely parent the child on her own.
CASA testified she believed that A.S., "due to her
intellectual abilities, is unable to raise [the child] by
herself." She also testified about an incident at the
courthouse a few months earlier as reported to her by a
brother of A.S. Another sibling became angry about a ring on
A.S.'s hand, and A.S.'s father forcefully grabbed
A.S.'s arm to show them it was not a wedding ring. A.S.
became upset, threatening to hit her sister-in-law and
raising a fist at her.
CASA further testified that she knew "there was some
abuse" in the maternal grandparents' home. A.S. had
told the CASA that her father slapped her in the child's
presence a year ago. The CASA also testified she personally
observed that "the verbal abuse [in the home] had been
just kind of ongoing." She expressed concern about the
impact the abuse would have on the child.
Q. So [A.S.] relayed to you that she had experienced verbal
or physical aggression in the home? A. Yes.
Q. Do you believe that had an impact on [the child] while
that was happening? A. Yes.
Q. Even as young as four months old, do you believe [the
child] was impacted by that? A. Absolutely. Through all the
information that we have on the development of kids, those
first few months and how important they are, even though they
don't have actual memory of the events, it affects who
they are for a lifetime basis.
questioned by the child's guardian ad litem, the CASA
explained that she felt the child should be removed from the
maternal grandparents' home because of the "turmoil
that is in the home."
court issued its order on May 18 terminating the parental
rights of A.S. and J.S. pursuant to Iowa Code section
232.116(1)(h) (2017). The court declined to apply any
exceptions to termination of parental rights under section
232.116(3). The court considered and rejected guardianship
with the maternal grandparents as an option, acknowledging
[o]ne of the other permanency options available to the
juvenile court is placing the children in a guardianship
pursuant to Iowa Code Section 23.104(2)(d)(1). In
this case, however, given the age of the child, the length of
time she has been removed, and the availability of other
viable permanency options it is clear guardianship would not
be appropriate. It is time for [the child] to achieve
permanency, and in these circumstances a guardianship ...