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In re M.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 21, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF M.M., M.L., and M.L., Minor Children, B.H., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental relationship with three children.

          Kelsey L. Knight of Carr & Wright, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Erin E. Mayfield of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         Ma. L., My. L, and M.M. were ages three years, two years, and two months when removed from their mother's care based on concerns about her substance abuse. Nineteen months later, the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental relationship with the children, concluding the "upheaval and chaos" in their young lives must "come to an end." The mother appeals the order, contending the State did not offer sufficient evidence for termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2017). She alternatively argues the court should have granted a six-month extension of permanency. She also alleges termination was not in the best interests of the children and would be harmful to them because of their close relationship with her. See Iowa Code § 232.116(2), (3)(c).

         After independently reviewing the record, [1] we find clear and convincing evidence the children could not be returned to their mother's care at the time of the termination hearing. We conclude the mother did not preserve error on her request for additional time to work toward reunification. We also conclude the children's best interests are served by moving toward a stable, long-term living arrangement. Accordingly, we affirm the juvenile court's order.[2]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In May 2016, the youngest child, M.M., tested positive at birth for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active component of marijuana. The mother's middle child, My.L., also tested positive for illegal drugs when he was born in 2013. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) worried about the mother's ongoing substance abuse and the possibility that she committed the offense of operating while intoxicated (OWI) while one of the children was in the car. When the mother did not respond to DHS inquiries, the State filed a petition to adjudicate the children in need of assistance (CINA). The juvenile court granted the CINA petition in July 2016. After the children were removed, their maternal grandmother stepped in to care for them.

         During the fall and winter of 2016, the mother spent nearly 120 days in jail for her pending OWI charges. But by February 2017, she had "made significant progress in stability in housing and mental health well-being, " according to the juvenile court, though concerns surrounding her substance abuse and attendance at visitations persisted. The next month, the mother's progress came to a halt. She did not attend scheduled visitations, and her probation officer informed the DHS that she tested positive for methamphetamine, opiates, and cocaine. "Per the probation officer, the mother admitted to using methamphetamine and Percocet but denied use of cocaine." As a result of this probation violation, a warrant issued for her arrest. In May 2016, the juvenile court directed the State to file a petition to terminate the mother's parental rights. The court emphasized the maternal grandmother was not to allow the mother contact with the children "unless and until" the mother turned herself in on her outstanding warrant.

         The juvenile court held a termination hearing in August 2017. The mother was incarcerated but attended the hearing. She testified that after her release from jail she would be going to inpatient treatment for several weeks. The mother had not visited the children since February 2017, five months earlier, because she had a probation warrant and did not want to go to jail. The mother expressed a desire to open a guardianship for the children with her mother. The juvenile court did not immediately terminate the mother's rights. Instead, in a September 6, 2017 order, the court ordered the DHS to take two steps: (1) have the case staffed by the African American Case Review Team in October and (2) meet with the maternal grandmother to review the differences between guardianship and termination of parental rights. The court ordered the children to remain in the grandmother's care.

         Three weeks later, the State filed a motion to modify the placement, alleging the grandmother allowed the mother to have unsupervised contact with the children, and the children were left in the mother's care while she was under the influence of heroin. The State also indicated the grandmother was facing criminal charges for assault with a weapon. After the juvenile court filed a modification order, the DHS placed the children in foster care. The mother did not request visits with the children after they were removed from the grandmother's care. The court re-opened the termination ...

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