IN THE INTEREST OF K.C., Minor Child, E.C., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Joseph W.
Seidlin, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the juvenile court's termination of her
Elizabeth A. Ryan of Benzoni Law Office, P.L.C., Des Moines,
for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
ConGarry D. Williams of Juvenile Public Defender Office, Des
Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.
mother appeals a juvenile court order terminating her
parental rights to her minor child, K.C. She contends the
State failed to prove the statutory grounds for termination
by clear and convincing evidence and to make reasonable
efforts to reunify her with her child. She also claims the
court erred in failing to apply a statutory exception to
termination. She further claims counsel was ineffective for
failing to raise the lack-of-reasonable-efforts claim prior
to or during the termination hearing.
Background Facts and Proceedings
was born in December 2016 and came to the attention of the
Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) three weeks later
upon allegations the mother was denying K.C. critical care.
The mother failed to take the child to a routine weight-check
appointment after discharge from the hospital. Three weeks
after K.C.'s birth, the mother took the child to the
doctor for stomach-related issues. During this appointment,
the mother admitted to feeding K.C. adult lactate milk and
prune juice. The mother was resistant to the doctor's
advice that feeding a newborn inappropriate substances was
dangerous. The mother also denied the offer of visiting
nursing services due to her house being "too
messy." It was also noted by medical staff that, despite
the outside temperature of fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, K.C.
was only dressed in a onesie with no other layers and with
only a thin blanket over the car seat. The mother also
admitted during the appointment that she felt she was not
able to take care of the child while working and she reported
she was waiting for a bus ticket to send the child to her
brother in Kansas City.
commenced its investigation of the allegations of denial of
critical care (failure to provide adequate shelter and
failure to provide proper supervision) after receiving a
report on January 5, 2017. On January 6, a DHS worker went to
the mother's identified address. During this encounter
the worker noted the mother was holding the child in an
unsafe manner. Though she initially acknowledged her
identity, after the DHS worker explained his/her concerns and
asked for identification to ensure he/she was speaking with
K.C.'s mother, the mother closed the door and refused to
contacted the Des Moines Police Department to assist, as the
child's safety had not yet been verified. Due to the
medical concerns of the child and the mother's refusal to
engage in the assessment process, an emergency removal order
was granted and police obtained entry into the house. During
the ensuing interview, the mother made statements about being
poisoned in jail and claimed "they" were after her,
"they" wanted to take her child away from her, and
"they" pointed an AK-47 at her while she was in
reported the child was not clean, had a strong body odor, and
had severe cradle cap. K.C. slept in the same bed with her
mother, which was soiled and had no bedding. In the
mother's home, DHS observed that the floor was littered
with trash and debris; the furnace had no cover; spoiled food
and trash were located on the table, floor, and in the sink;
there were bugs in the air; ceiling tiles, which could
contain asbestos, were exposed; and there were gaping holes
in the floorboards. The mother lived with K.C.'s maternal
grandmother, whose parental rights to K.C.'s mother were
terminated when she was a child and who had medical and
mental-health issues of her own. K.C. was reportedly left in
her grandmother's care on occasion.
was subsequently removed from her mother's care and
placed into foster care. During further investigation, the
mother made additional statements that she was poisoned while
in jail and that this was likely the reason for K.C.'s
stomach issues. She also refused assistance for shelter
referrals. On February 3, DHS completed its investigation and
determined both allegations of denial of critical care were
founded. The child-abuse-assessment report noted concerns
about the mother's mental health, including her display
of signs of paranoia and possible hallucinations.
February 17, K.C. was adjudicated to be a child in need of
assistance (CINA) and remained in the custody of DHS for
foster-care placement. On April 21, the court adopted a case
permanency plan which provided for a primary permanency goal
of reunification. The permanency plan called for the mother
to address her mental-health issues, complete a psychiatric
evaluation, continue in individual therapy, engage in
parenting sessions, follow recommendations of medical
providers, and obtain safe and appropriate housing.
mother completed a psychiatric evaluation on April 20 and
attended a follow-up appointment in July; however, after her
diagnosis of unspecified psychosis and a recommendation for
medication, she refused the medication and failed to return
for follow-up care. Also in July, the mother went to the
emergency room with a complaint of shortness of breath;
before treatment could be completed, the mother removed her
own IV and left. The mother reported to DHS that she believed
the emergency room staff was attempting to give her sodium
chloride to stop her heart.
August 5, the mother was arrested for disorderly conduct
after she was found unclothed from the waist down threatening
to kill people with a rock. The police report indicates the
mother refused to drop the rock despite commands from police
and ultimately the police had to physically ...