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In re S.E.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 24, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF S.E., Minor Child, P.H., Father, Appellant, K.J., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Page County, Amy L. Zacharias, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father each challenge a juvenile court order terminating their parental rights to their four-year-old son.

          Sarah M. Hart of Reisinger Booth and Associates, P.C., L.L.O., Omaha, Nebraska, for appellant father.

          Justin R. Wyatt of Woods & Wyatt, P.L.L.C., Glenwood, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Vicki R. Danley, Sidney, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         Parents, Philip and Kassandra, separately appeal the termination of their parental rights in their now four-year-old son, S.E. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) took custody of S.E. based on Kassandra's methamphetamine use. On appeal, Kassandra challenges the juvenile court's determinations S.E. could not be returned to her care, she failed to maintain significant and meaningful contact with S.E. and made no efforts to resume care for S.E., and termination was in S.E.'s best interests. Kassandra also requests an additional six months to work toward reunification. Philip challenges the juvenile court's determinations S.E. could not be placed with him, he failed to maintain significant and meaningful contact with S.E. and made no efforts to resume care for S.E., and termination was in S.E.'s best interests. Philip also argues S.E. was never removed from his care because he was the noncustodial parent, and the State failed to make reasonable efforts to support reunification.

         After independently reviewing the record, we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court regarding the termination of parental rights.[1]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         S.E. and his half-siblings[2] came to the attention of the DHS in October 2015 after a child protective worker found Kassandra failed to provide proper supervision for the children. In May 2016, Kassandra tested positive for methamphetamine; S.E. was voluntarily placed with a family friend. Citing Kassandra's continued drug use, the State filed a petition alleging S.E. and his siblings were children in need of assistance (CINA). In August 2016, S.E.'s placement could no longer care for him, and he was formally removed from his parents' custody through an ex parte order and placed in foster care.

         Because state officials could not locate Philip after a diligent search, they served him notice of the CINA hearing via publication. In October 2016, Philip and Kassandra appeared telephonically at the hearing where S.E. was adjudicated CINA.[3] The juvenile court advised both parents to seek mental-health and chemical-dependency evaluations, follow their respective substance-abuse and mental-health recommendations, submit to random drug screenings, actively engage in Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) services, and participate in visitation.

         The parents did not follow that advice. Philip did not remain engaged with services, did not remain in contact with his attorney, and did not file the necessary paperwork to allow the attorney to be paid by the State. After obtaining Philip's updated contact information, an FSRP worker text messaged him the date and time of an upcoming family team meeting. But Philip did not attend the meeting. And Kassandra consistently either failed to complete requested drug screens or tested positive for illegal substances.

         Both parents appeared in person for the first time before the juvenile court at a February 2017 review hearing. The court warned the parents to comply with services or risk termination of parental rights. Philip appeared to initially take this warning seriously. He moved in with his aunt to establish more stable housing and he got a job. He also completed a chemical-dependency evaluation and was to begin substance-abuse treatment in February. But Philip did not show up for treatment and did not contact the facility. Eventually, Philip again attempted inpatient treatment but left after just a week. For her part, Kassandra entered inpatient substance-abuse treatment in March 2017 and completed a thirty-day program. But while in treatment Kassandra did not finish assignments and became upset when staff recommended additional treatment. Upon her discharge she entered outpatient treatment despite recommendations she complete an additional thirty-day inpatient program.

         In May 2017, Kassandra moved into her paramour's home and hoped to have visitation with S.E. there. While her paramour completed an initial background check, he failed to provide any explanation for his significant history of criminal convictions and abuse reports. Both parents attended a May court hearing and provided drug screens free from unprescribed substances. That same month, the State filed its petition to terminate parental rights in S.E. Then both parents began to miss random drug screens. Kassandra submitted one subsequent drug screen on June 22, 2017 and tested positive for methamphetamines, amphetamines, and THC.

         The juvenile court held a termination-of-parental-rights hearing on September 19, 2017. Both Kassandra and Philip were present but only Kassandra testified. The juvenile court concluded Philip and Kassandra abandoned S.E. under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) (2017) and S.E. could not be returned to either parents' home under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h). The court also concluded the State provided reasonable efforts supporting reunification and termination of Philip and Kassandra's rights is in S.E.'s best interests. Both parents now appeal.

         II. Analysis of the Parents' Issues

         A. ...


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