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In re A.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 24, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.M., Minor Child, D.M., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Stephen A. Owen, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the adjudication of her teenaged daughter as a child in need of assistance.

          Daniela Matasovic of Matasovic Law Firm, Ames, for appellant mother.

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

          Shannon M. Leighty of the Public Defender Office, Nevada, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Deborah, challenges the juvenile court's finding that her seventeen-year-old daughter, [1] A.M., is a child in need of assistance (CINA). Deborah admits striking A.M. but attributes the physical conflict to A.M.'s rebellious attitude and argues the one-time incident does not merit involvement of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) with their family. Because the juvenile court's adjudication and disposition are supported by clear and convincing evidence, we affirm.[2]

         In August 2017, a child protective assessment investigator came to A.M.'s home to investigate an allegation that Deborah punched A.M. in the arm. Deborah acknowledged hitting her daughter in frustration over her defiant behavior. Both Deborah and A.M. described a badly strained mother-daughter relationship. The investigator noted A.M.'s four-to-five inch bruise, fading but still visible more than one week after the contact. The investigator observed A.M. was "incredibly thin with almost no fat on her body" and "extremely pale." Deborah told the investigator A.M. "refused to eat" and complained about stomach issues. According to medical records, A.M. was diagnosed in 2012 with failure to thrive but had not been diagnosed with an eating disorder. The investigator did not conclude Deborah was withholding food from A.M. But the investigator decided the allegation of physical abuse was founded.

         The State filed a CINA petition on August 28, 2017, citing Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(b), (c)(2), and (g) (2017). The juvenile court held an adjudication hearing in late October, hearing testimony from A.M.'s mother, father, and older sister, as well as two family friends and the DHS social worker. On October 30, 2017, the juvenile court issued an adjudication order, finding clear and convincing evidence to support the State's allegations under section 232.2(6)(b) and (c)(2). The juvenile court found the family needed aid from the DHS, opining:

[A.M.'s] family did recognize the discordant and dysfunctional family relationships for a significant period of time before the Iowa DHS child abuse assessment investigation was commenced, but failed to take any action until after they had DHS contact. [Deborah] claims to have undertaken significant research to improve her parenting that was unsuccessful and ultimately led to the perpetration of physical abuse against [A.M.]. This further suggests the need for a higher level of oversight and the provision of services under the auspices of the court's authority to professionally service the child's and family's needs.

         In a November 15, 2017 report, the DHS recommended A.M. and her parents engage in individual and family counseling. Six days later, the juvenile court held a hearing and entered a dispositional order, continuing the CINA adjudication and requiring the parties to participate in the recommended mental-health treatment and counseling. The court also accepted the State's recommendation that the case automatically close on January 31, 2018. The court noted the limited scope and duration of the recommended services did not mean A.M. and her family could not benefit from the help. Deborah appeals the CINA adjudication and dispositional orders.

         On appeal, Deborah challenges the statutory basis for the CINA finding. Under state law, a child in need of assistance means "an unmarried child . . . [w]hose parent . . . has physically abused or neglected the child, or is imminently likely to abuse or neglect the child." Iowa Code § 232.2(6)(b). The definition also includes a child "who has suffered or is imminently likely to suffer harmful effects as a result of . . . [t]he failure of the child's parent . . . to exercise a reasonable degree of care in supervising the child." Iowa Code § 232.2(6)(c)(2).

         Deborah argues the "one-time incident" did not rise to the level of "physical abuse" under subsection (6)(b) because her intent as a mother was to discipline and provide structure for A.M. Deborah asserts A.M. "provoked" the incident by being verbally abusive. But Deborah also asserts she was immediately remorseful after hitting her daughter. As for subparagraph (6)(c)(2), Deborah contends the State offered no evidence to show a lack of supervision or a ...

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