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In re J.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 4, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF J.C., Minor Child, K.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Susan F. Flaherty, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights to her child.

          Ellen R. Ramsey-Kacena, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

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

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          DANILSON, Chief Judge.

         A mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights to her child, J.C., pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2017).[1] The mother asserts the juvenile court should have placed J.C. in a guardianship with the mother's former step-mother, A.C., instead of terminating the mother's parental rights. The mother maintains termination of her parental rights to J.C. is not in J.C.'s best interests and exceptions apply to preclude the need for termination. Because the mother was granted additional time to seek reunification with J.C. and was not able to resume care of the child, we conclude termination of the mother's parental rights is in J.C.'s best interests and affirm.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

         J.C. was born in January 2016 when the mother was fourteen years old. The mother has a difficult background involving abuse by her biological parents. The Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with the mother in May of 2016 after her father came to her school to confront her about her truancy and assaulted her. It was reported the mother was not providing consistent care for J.C. and often left him in the care of A.C. Child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) petitions were filed regarding both the mother and J.C.

         In August 2016, the mother was placed in a residential treatment facility that allowed J.C. to remain in her care. In September 2016, J.C. was removed and placed in foster care because the mother had difficulty with the staff at the facility. The mother was discharged from the facility after running away twice and assaulting a peer in the program. The mother was placed in another residential treatment facility and was again unsuccessfully discharged because she continued to be aggressive with staff and peers. The mother was then moved to Clarinda Academy in May 2017. J.C.-who had remained in foster care in Des Moines to be near the mother at the residential treatment facilities-was placed in the care of A.C. at that time.

         At the time of the first termination hearing on August 1, 2017, the mother had been making improvements during her time at the academy. The mother was working through the program and anticipated release in October or November of 2017. She was participating in visitation with J.C. as much as possible, was receiving individual therapy and medication management, and exhibited very strong parenting skills. The mother requested additional time to seek reunification with J.C. or, in the alternative, asked that J.C. be placed in a guardianship with A.C. In an August 7, 2017 order, the juvenile court determined guardianship was not in J.C.'s best interests but granted the mother additional time to seek reunification with J.C. The court explained:

While the court rejects the notion that a guardianship adequately addresses permanency for this child, the court does find that the grant of additional time to achieve reunification, as requested by the mother and the child's attorney/guardian ad litem, is in [J.C.]'s best interests. If, as [the mother] and [the father] both testified, their current placements are preparing them to assume parental responsibilities, considering the bond between [J.C.] and his parents, also considering the support that [the mother] and [the father] have from both [A.C.] and [the father's mother], the court finds that allowing an additional six months to achieve reunification of [J.C.] with a parent is in his best interest. That time frame will allow each parent the opportunity to successfully complete residential treatment and move to a setting that would allow them to have their child in their custody. It will allow each parent to follow through with the statements made at this hearing regarding their commitment to making the necessary changes in their lives to safely assume full time care of this child.

         Unfortunately, at the time of the second termination hearing on December 28, 2017, it was apparent the mother had not continued to make progress as anticipated. A DHS Family Case Plan ...


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