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In re A.L.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 18, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.L. and B.L., Minor Children, C.L., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Romonda D. Belcher, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the juvenile court order terminating his parental relationship with two children. AFFIRMED.

          Bryan P. Webber of Carr Law Firm P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant father.

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

          Nicole Garbis Nolan of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         A father, Cole, challenges the juvenile court order terminating his parental relationship with his nine-year-old son, B.L., and his five-year-old daughter, A.L.[1]The order could not have come as a surprise. More than a year earlier, our court sent a "simple" message to Cole: "take positive steps to comply with the [Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS)] and court orders or [you] may face termination of [your] parental rights at some time in the future." In re B.L., No. 16-0878, 2016 WL 6269888, at *9 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2016). But Cole did not comply with the court's expectations and instead was convicted of child endangerment-sacrificing precious visitation time with his children. In light of these circumstances, we reject Cole's challenge and affirm the termination order.[2]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Cole married Tabitha in 2013. They were raising three children-A.C., who was born in 2009, in addition to B.L. and A.L. Cole is the biological father of B.L. and A.L. Tabitha is the biological mother of the two girls, A.C. and A.L. In 2015, A.C. accused Cole of sexual abuse. Cole acknowledged touching the girl's vagina, but claimed it was for medical reasons. A child-protective-service investigation determined A.C.'s accusations were credible and issued a founded abuse report. The DHS implemented a safety plan, but the parents did not follow it. The juvenile court approved a removal order for all three children in May 2015. The court adjudicated the children in need of assistance (CINA) in June.

         In February 2016, the juvenile court approved the DHS case permanency plan that required Cole to have a sex-abuse assessment if he "is not actively engaged in individual therapy." In April, social worker Natasha Richman updated the court on Cole's compliance with the plan and expressed concern that he missed therapy appointments and then stopped seeing the counselor who was recommended for sexual offenders. Instead, Cole reported attending therapy but would not disclose the name of the counselor or the agency providing services. Despite the case worker's concerns, the juvenile court ordered B.L. returned to Cole and A.L. returned to Tabitha, with any visitation between A.L. and Cole to be "professionally supervised." Our court reversed that order in October 2016, finding a return to their parents was not in the children's best interests. Id.

         On remand in November, the juvenile court afforded the parents an additional six months to work toward reunification. For Cole to achieve that goal, the court imposed the following conditions:

The father shall complete a sex-abuse assessment if not actively engaged in individual therapy that encompasses sexual abuse allegations until successfully discharged, comply with FSRP [family safety, risk, and permanency services] recommendations and consistently attend scheduled visits, transition from professionally supervised visits, comply with terms of probation, provide drug screens as requested, refrain from illegal substance use, and be supportive of and as requested, actively participate in children's therapy.

         Cole's case took a downward turn a few months later. In February 2017, Cole engaged in a "physical altercation" with his father, who was the caregiver for the children. The paternal grandfather told police Cole held him down while Tabitha punched him in the face. The children witnessed the assault. Cole also prevented the grandfather from dialing 911. The State charged Cole with multiple crimes, and the juvenile court suspended visitation. In September, Cole pleaded guilty to child endangerment and received a suspended sentence. The district court modified the criminal no-contact order to allow the DHS to restart visitation and reunification efforts. The parents asked ...


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