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In re A.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 21, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.G., N.G., and J.G., Minor Children, N.G., Mother, Appellant.

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

         A mother appeals the juvenile court order severing her parental relationship with three of her four children.

          Shannon M. Leighty of Public Defender's Office, Nevada, for appellant mother.

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

          Nicole S. Facio of Newbrough Law Firm, Ames, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         This appeal involves three children: eight-year-old N.G., seven-year-old A.G., and four-year-old J.G. Their mother, Natasha, challenges the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights. Natasha contends she could have resumed care of the children at the time of the termination hearing. She also complains the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) did not make reasonable efforts to return the children and allowed the foster family to hinder reunification goals. Finally, she alleges termination would be detrimental to the children because of their strong bond with her. Based on our independent review of the record, [1] we cannot accept Natasha's contentions. Because the State offered clear and convincing evidence in support of its petition to terminate Natasha's parental relationship with N.G., A.G., and J.G., we affirm the juvenile court's order.[2]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         This child-welfare case opened in April 2016 when the DHS received a report of J.G., then age two, having been left outside unattended. Neighbors also recalled the children asking for food, and DHS investigators found insufficient groceries in Natasha's home. Natasha later acknowledged she was using methamphetamine and marijuana at this time. Natasha consented to removal of her four children in May when she was jailed in Story County. The children's fathers lived out of state and were unable to provide care.

         In August 2016, the juvenile court adjudicated the four siblings as children in need of assistance (CINA). The next month, the DHS filed a case plan that recommended Natasha comply with random drug screens and seek treatment for substance abuse and mental-health difficulties. Natasha revealed diagnoses of depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, and borderline bipolar disorder. The DHS plan also expected Natasha to participate in visitation with the children and cooperate with other family safety, risk, and permanency (FSRP) services. In September 2016, the court modified the case plan-adding a goal for Natasha to secure safe and stable housing for herself and the children.

         Over the ensuing months, Natasha did not live up to the expectations in the case plan. She did not comply with recommended mental-health and substance-abuse services. She engaged in criminal activity, collecting convictions for theft, child endangerment, and driving while revoked. Her housing was not stable; she often stayed with friends in Ames but did not provide DHS with the address. Most significantly, Natasha missed forty-five percent of the twice-weekly visitations with her children.

         In May 2017, a year into the CINA case, Natasha requested additional services in the form of funds to pay for the mental-health evaluation requested by the DHS. Those additional services were provided by the time of the permanency review hearing in mid-July 2017.

         The State filed a petition to terminate parental rights in July 2017. The court held a two-day hearing in October and November 2017. On the first day of the hearing, Natasha came to court from the Story County jail because she had not completed required coursework in connection with her conviction for operating while intoxicated. In early December 2017, the court issued its order terminating Natasha's ...


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