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In re A.W.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 20, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.W. and A.W., Minor Children, C.W., Father, Appellant, C.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Barbara H. Liesveld, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father each appeal the order terminating their parental rights to their two daughters.

          Ryan P. Tang of Law Office of Ryan P. Tang, P.C., Marion, for appellant father. Michael M. Lindeman of Lindeman Law, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Patricia J. Meier of Nidey Erdahl Fisher Pilkington & Meier, PLC, Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         Parents Cameron and Cassandra[1] challenge the order terminating their legal relationship with two daughters, six-year-old Ad.W. and two-year-old Al.W.[2]On appeal, both parents argue the children could be returned home. Cameron also contends termination of his parental rights was not in his daughters' best interests. Given the parents' histories of unabated drug use, mental-health challenges, and incidents of domestic violence, we agree with the conclusions of the juvenile court and affirm the termination order.[3]

         In the spring of 2016, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) received a report that Cassandra was using cocaine while caring for her daughters.[4] Cassandra had completed a substance-abuse program at the Heart of Iowa but relapsed in February 2016. She stopped attending outpatient treatment in March. The DHS also received a report that Cameron assaulted Cassandra in the presence of the children and was abusing pain medication. In a July 2016 order adjudicating Ad.W. and Al.W. as children in need of assistance (CINA), the juvenile court chronicled the parents' long struggles with drug abuse and their criminal records. The court also noted the parents' difficulty in maintaining stable housing and employment.

         The girls remained in their parents' home until December 2016 when both Cassandra and Cameron submitted to hair-stat tests which revealed the presence of cocaine. The court then ordered tests of the children's hair; Ad.W. tested positive for exposure to methamphetamine, cocaine, benzoylecgonine, and norcaine. The girls have been in foster care since January 2017.

         During the intervening year, neither Cassandra nor Cameron engaged in substance-abuse treatment as expected by the DHS. Both tested positive for drugs in the summer of 2017 and failed to submit to drug testing requested by the DHS since the fall of 2017. Addressing their mental-health needs has also been an ongoing issue for both parents. Cassandra has been diagnosed with anxiety and major depressive disorder; Cameron has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit disorder. Neither consistently followed through with counseling or medication management, according to the testimony of their caseworker.

         Domestic violence was also an issue. Cassandra reported an incident in January 2018, when Cameron struck and strangled her. She testified that in the process of trying to stop the assault, she broke his necklace and phone. Cassandra also acknowledged Ad.W. had witnessed domestic violence when living at home. Cameron admitted unhealthy aspects to his relationship with Cassandra, specifically "the arguing and the drug use." Housing too was a concern. The parents had been evicted multiple times. At the time of the termination hearing, the father was staying with his brother, and the mother was incarcerated and had been homeless.

         Another problem was inconsistency in the parents' interactions with Ad.W. and Al.W. The DHS offered them supervised visitation three times per week. But the parents frequently arrived late or cancelled visits, which disappointed the girls, especially the older daughter. And although encouraged to attend the girls' medical appointments and gymnastics classes, the parents failed to take advantage of these additional opportunities to engage in their children's lives.

         In December 2017, the State filed a petition for termination of parental rights. In February 2018, the juvenile court heard testimony from both parents and the DHS caseworker. In March 2018, the juvenile court granted the petition, relying on Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) (2017) as to the older child ...

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