IN THE INTEREST OF M.M., M.L., and M.L., Minor Children, B.H., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt,
District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the termination of her parental relationship
with three children.
L. Knight of Carr & Wright, P.L.C., Des Moines, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
E. Mayfield of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad
litem for minor children.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.
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).
independently reviewing the record,  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
Facts and Prior Proceedings
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.
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.
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
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