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In re M.B.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF M.B., A.B., and A.T., Minor Children, J.B., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Barbara H. Liesveld, District Associate Judge.

         A mother seeks reunification with her three children after the juvenile court terminated her parental rights.

          Kathryn E. Davis, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.

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

          Kimberly A. Opatz of Linn County Advocate, Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         This case involves three children-eight-year-old M.B., six-year-old A.B., and three-year-old A.T. In 2014, all three suffered physical abuse and death threats from Ronald, the putative father of the two younger children and the paramour of their mother, Justine. Since that abuse occurred, Justine has not consistently provided the nurturing and support these children badly need to heal and grow. After years of receiving services from the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), Justine is still overwhelmed when called to care for all three children at the same time and continues to expose the children to potentially dangerous people. The juvenile court terminated Justine's parental rights in November 2017.[1] After our review of the record, [2] we find the termination complied with the statutory grounds and was in the best interests of the children. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1), (2), (3) (2017).

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         This family's involvement with the DHS dates back to 2009 when Ronald reportedly strangled Justine in the presence of another child. In March 2011, the DHS confirmed a child-abuse allegation involving the parents' use of illegal drugs in the home. Then in November 2014, a frightening event resulted in the adjudication of M.B., A.B., and A.T. as children in need of assistance (CINA). Ronald threatened to kill Justine and all three children. He covered M.B.'s mouth so she couldn't breathe; he waved a metal pipe over his son A.B., saying "I bet this would go through [the boy's] skull"; and he forced a towel over baby A.T.'s face, saying, "[Y]ou take care of that bitch." Ronald was incarcerated for child endangerment until July 2015. The DHS returned the children to Justine's care on her word she would not reunite with Ronald.

         But in September 2015, the DHS confirmed Ronald was back in the home and had physically abused M.B., leaving a bruise on her thigh. Justine testified at the termination hearing that M.B. lied about what happened. Ronald was charged with violating the no-contact order. A few days later, M.B. told staff at her school that her family was moving away. Ronald was with Justine when the mother picked up M.B. from school. Worried about the safety of the children, the DHS initiated another removal and a second CINA adjudication.

         From October 2015 through June 2017, Justine made some strides toward reunification. She obtained an apartment with federal housing assistance for low-income families, though she did not consistently stay there. Justine instead chose to spend two to three nights per week at her mother's home. But Justine's mother lost custody of Justine as a child and is not approved for contact with the grandchildren. Justine held four different jobs during the pendency of the case; she was employed at the time of the termination hearing.

         Justine progressed in her visitation with the children, moving from fully supervised to semi-supervised to unsupervised to overnight sessions. In early June 2017, Justine had extended visitation of four overnight stays. Justine complained to the foster parents and the DHS social worker that caring for all three children at once was "very stressful." In fact, it was so stressful that Justine revealed to the foster mother that Justine started "smoking weed" to cope with the situation. The DHS also learned Justine had exposed the children to a friend who was charged with predatory sexual contact with a minor in Illinois. The FSRP (family safety, risk, and permanency) worker explained, "[W]here she's been fully supervised and when people are there Justine seems to do a good job, but as the level of supervision decreases, that's when issues arise of people being there who shouldn't be." The DHS returned Justine to supervised visitation in mid-June 2017.

         Justine struggled with her mental health, having been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety. During the pendency of the case, she did not consistently manage her medication or individual counseling needs. She continued to swear at the children and ...

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