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In re K.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 4, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF K.F., A.L., and D.F.-L., Minor Children, A.L., Father, Appellant, A.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Louise M. Jacobs, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the juvenile court order terminating their parental rights.

          Shireen L. Carter of Shireen Carter Law Office, P.L.C., Norwalk, for appellant father. Ashley M. Sparks of Cooper, Goedicke, Reimer and Reese, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          ConGarry D. Williams of Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         A mother, Alexis, appeals the juvenile court order terminating her parental relationship with three children-nine-year-old D.F.-L., five-year-old A.L., and one-year-old K.F. Alexis claims she has corrected the circumstances leading to her convictions for child endangerment and the children can safely be returned to her care. She also maintains termination was not in the children's best interests because of their close bond with her. A father, Austyn, separately appeals the order as it relates to the two older children.[1] Austyn claims termination of his parental rights would be harmful to the children and the juvenile court could have established a guardianship with the paternal grandmother, who has cared for the children during the pendency of the child welfare case.

         After independently assessing the record, [2] we reach the same conclusions as the juvenile court. If returned to the care of Alexis and Austyn, the children would likely face continued "chaos, drugs, and volatile situations." The termination of parental rights offers these children the best chance at a stable placement and ultimately adoption. Accordingly, we affirm the juvenile court's order.

          I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Alexis assaulted her daughter D.F.-L, then seven years old, in the spring of 2016, prompting the State to file a child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) petition. D.F.-L. told authorities her mother regularly punched and kicked her in the head and body and several times threw her against a wall. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) removed both D.F.-L. and her younger sister, A.L., from their mother's care in May 2016. Drug screens revealed both children had tetrahydrocannabinol, the active component of marijuana, in their systems. A.L. also tested positive for cocaine. At the time of removal, Alexis was pregnant with her third child.

         In its CINA petition, the State alleged Austyn, the father of D.F.-L. and A.L., had a history of substance abuse and domestic violence and was not a suitable caregiver. The DHS placed D.F.-L. and A.L. with Austyn's mother.

         Alexis eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of child endangerment and one count of neglect of a dependent; in December 2016 she was placed on probation for eighteen months. Alexis has been diagnosed with mental-health issues, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She engaged in therapy, but inconsistently, during the CINA case. Alexis also has a history of marijuana and cocaine use. At the termination hearing, she called her efforts at sobriety "a work in progress."

         In February 2017, the juvenile court found the parents were making progress, Alexis was complying with the conditions of her probation, and both parents exercised almost daily visitation with the children-supervised by the grandmother. But when K.F. was born later that month, he tested positive for ...


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