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In re S.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 20, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF S.P., Minor Child, D.P., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Butler County, Peter B. Newell, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals a child-in-need-of-assistance permanency review order.

          David A. Kuehner of Eggert, Erb, Kuehner & DeBower P.L.C., Charles City, for appellant mother.

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

          Elizabeth A. Batey of Vickers Law Office, Greene, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         A mother with a long history of methamphetamine abuse appeals a child-in-need-of-assistance permanency review order transferring guardianship and custody of her younger child to the relatives with whom he had been living for two years. She contends the department of human services (DHS) failed to make reasonable efforts toward reunification and the district court should have returned the child to her care.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This case was the subject of an appeal from a dispositional order. See In re S.P., No. 16-1919, 2017 WL 108798, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 11, 2017). We provided a detailed factual narrative in that opinion. See id. at *1-3. In the main, the mother's two children resisted exercising visitation with her. Id. at *2. Given their reluctance to see her, the juvenile court left visitation in the discretion of the department and denied the mother's request for court-ordered visitation. Id. at *3. We held, "The juvenile court improperly allowed the DHS to give the children veto power over an essential reunification service." Id. at *5. We further stated:

The issue before us is not whether teenagers can be forced to attend a scheduled visitation against their will. Instead, the pending question is whether the DHS satisfied the reasonable-efforts requirement when the case manager took no meaningful steps to set up a visitation plan for these children. The children's preferences do not relieve the DHS of its duty to provide reasonable efforts. We conclude the court erred in finding reasonable efforts were satisfied when the DHS impermissibly delegated the visitation decision to the dependent children. To establish reasonable efforts, the DHS must either present a definitive plan with the ultimate goal of visitation or make a showing that visitation is not in the children's best interests.

Id. (emphasis added). We reversed the portion of the dispositional order finding the department satisfied its reasonable efforts obligation, and we remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. Id.

         Following remand, the district court left visits between the mother and children "at the discretion of the [department" but ordered the department to "continue to work towards supervised visits, " "initiate phone calls between the children and their mother, " "continue to receive letters from the mother to be provided to the children, " and "continue to encourage the children to have visits with their mother." The department scheduled twice weekly visits, forwarded the mother's letters to the younger child, and attempted to persuade him to participate in the visits.[1]

         The sixteen-year-old child declined to engage with the mother. The children's therapist opined, "I do not believe that contact with [the mother] would be harmful to [the children]. I do believe however that [the children] are both old enough and mature enough to decide for themselves whether they want to have contact with [the mother], and I strongly ...


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