IN THE INTEREST OF K.C. and E.C., Minor Children, S.C., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Susan F.
Flaherty, Associate Juvenile Judge.
appeals from an order terminating her parental rights
pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2017).
K. Bryner, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Trachta of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, guardian
ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.
appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her
children K.C. (born 2004) and E.C. (born 2015) pursuant to
Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) and (h) (2017). K.C.'s
biological father is deceased. E.C.'s biological father
consented to the termination of his parental rights, and he
does not appeal. On appeal, Stacey challenges the sufficiency
of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds authorizing
the termination of her parental rights, contends the Iowa
Department of Human Services (IDHS) failed to make reasonable
efforts towards reunification, and argues termination is not
in the best interest of her children.
court reviews termination proceedings de novo. See In re
A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014). The statutory
framework authorizing the termination of a parent-child
relationship is well established and need not be repeated
herein. See In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472-73 (Iowa
2018) (setting forth the statutory framework). The burden is
on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence the
statutory grounds authorizing the termination of parental
rights and termination is in the best interest of the
children. See In re E.H., No. 17-0615, 2017 WL
2684420, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. June 21, 2017).
first address the sufficiency of the evidence. Here, the
juvenile court terminated Stacey's parental rights
pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) and (h). Stacey
challenges only the last element of these similar provisions:
whether there is clear and convincing evidence the children
could not be returned to her custody at the time of the
termination hearing within the meaning of section 232.102.
See Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f)(4) and (h)(4). We
have interpreted these provisions to require, among other
things, "clear and convincing evidence the children
would be exposed to an appreciable risk of adjudicatory harm
if returned to the parent's custody at the time of the
termination hearing." In re E.H., 2017 WL
2684420, at *1.
novo review, we conclude there is clear and convincing
evidence proving the children could not be returned to
Stacey's care without being exposed to an appreciable
risk of adjudicatory harm. The family came to the attention
of IDHS after the department received multiple reports Stacey
was abusing marijuana, alcohol, and prescription medications;
Stacey was leaving the children without supervision; Stacey
was neglecting the children's health needs; and the
children were living in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
Initially, the department was not able to confirm the
reports. Later, IDHS received further reports regarding the
family and again investigated the situation. Upon this second
investigation, IDHS learned the mother had been evicted and
was homeless, the children were living with the parents of
one of K.C.'s friends, K.C. had not been living with the
mother for a period of years, the mother was using controlled
substances, and the mother was not providing adequate
physical care for the children. In particular, the record
shows E.C. has cystic fibrosis and heightened medical needs.
Because of this, he needs extraordinary supervision and
physical care, which Stacey admitted she was not providing.
For example, E.C. is required to use a therapeutic vest on a
daily basis to keep mucus out of his lungs. A tracking system
on the vest showed Stacey had used the vest for only 2.5
hours when medical directives provided E.C. should have used
the vest for more than 240 hours. Because of these confirmed
reports, IDHS removed the children from Stacey's care.
the time of removal, Stacey has not demonstrated the capacity
to provide care for the children. She continues to abuse
controlled substances. Of the seventy-eight times Stacey has
been called for drug testing over the life of this case, she
no-showed on sixty-three occasions. On those occasions she
did test, she tested positive for methamphetamine and
marijuana. She has not completed any
substance-abuse-treatment program, and she continues to deny
use despite all of the evidence to the contrary. The evidence
shows Stacey's substance abuse creates an an appreciable
risk of harm to the children. Specifically, Stacey's
substance abuse interferes with her ability to provide a safe
and sanitary living environment for the children and prevents
her from meeting the medical needs of E.C. See, e.g., In
re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 776 (Iowa 2012) (noting drug
addiction can render a parent unable to care for children);
In re L.S., No. 17-1824, 2018 WL 540968, at *1 (Iowa
Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2018) (providing untreated substance abuse
can create a risk of harm to the children); In re
R.P., No. 16-1154, 2016 WL 4544426, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App.
Aug. 31, 2016) (affirming termination of parental rights of
parent with history of drug abuse); In re H.L., No.
14-0708, 2014 WL 3513262, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. July 16, 2014)
(affirming termination of parental rights when parent had
history of substance abuse).
address whether IDHS made reasonable efforts to facilitate
reunification of the family. As part of its burden of proving
the children could not be returned to Stacey's care at
the time of the termination hearing, the State must prove it
made reasonable efforts to return the children to the care of
the parent. See Iowa Code § 232.102(9)
(providing the department of human services must make
"every reasonable effort to return the child to the
child's home as quickly as possible consistent with the
best interests of the child"). Reasonable efforts
"facilitate reunification while protecting the child
from the harm responsible for the removal." In re
J.W., No. 17-1937, 2018 WL 1099179, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App.
Feb. 21, 2018) (quoting In re M.B., 553 N.W.2d 343,
345 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996)). "[W]hat constitutes
reasonable services varies based upon the requirements of
each individual case." In re C.H., 652 N.W.2d
144, 147 (Iowa 2002).
argues IDHS did not make reasonable efforts to facilitate
reunification because K.C.'s placement with the maternal
aunt and uncle in Oskaloosa interfered with her ability to
exercise visitation with the child due to distance between
their residence and her residence in Cedar Rapids. We are
unpersuaded by Stacey's argument. First, Stacey initially
requested the aunt and uncle be considered for placement as
she considered the couple a strong support. The juvenile
court initially denied the request and placed K.C. in foster
care in Cedar Rapids. Subsequently, the juvenile court
granted the request, and the child thrived in the placement.
Second, the juvenile court considered Stacey's request to
move K.C. back to Cedar Rapids for placement and found the
placement with the maternal aunt and uncle was in K.C.'s
best interest, was a proper concurrent plan placement, and
was not a barrier to reunification. Third, although the
physical distance was inconvenient, Stacey has not identified
any missed visitation or family therapy as a result of the
placement. Finally, Stacey received a myriad of services,
including supervised visitation, individual counseling for
K.C., family counseling, family team meetings, foster family