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In re E.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 5, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF E.F., Minor Child, B.F., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E. Seymour, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child.

          Gina E. Verdoorn of Carr Law Firm P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Erin E. Mayfield of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. She contends the State failed to provide her adequate notice of the termination hearing and prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. She additionally contends termination is not in the child's best interests and requests additional time to reunify with her child.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         E.F. was born in May 2017 and came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) after the child tested positive for amphetamine at birth. During DHS's investigation, the mother admitted to methamphetamine use throughout her pregnancy. Upon the child's discharge from the hospital, he was removed from the mother's care and placed in the care of his maternal great-grandmother. The mother previously received services as a result of the court's intervention with two of her older children due to her substance-abuse issues, however she was unsuccessful with addressing those issues. Her parental rights to those children were terminated in March 2015. This child was adjudicated to be a child in need of assistance (CINA) on June 23 and remained in the great-grandmother's care.

         On July 14, the child's placement was modified to foster care because the great-grandmother was not deemed a suitable long-term placement due to the great-grandmother's age and the child's young age, along with reports that, during a prior case, the great-grandmother was dishonest with DHS and allowed unauthorized persons around the children placed in her care. The child was placed and has remained in the same foster-to-adopt home since that time. The child's father was confirmed through paternity testing, but he repeatedly told DHS he wanted nothing to do with the child or the case and has not participated in any recommended services.

         The mother was arrested in June for driving while barred. This, along with testing positive for methamphetamine, resulted in the revocation of her bond on a pending felony drug charge. The mother also obtained a substance-abuse evaluation in June, which resulted in a recommendation for residential treatment. However, she was unable to obtain services at that time due to her criminal matters.

         In August, DHS received notification the mother was in an outpatient treatment program until such time that she was accepted into an inpatient program. She started an inpatient program on August 23 but left after one day. In September, the mother was on a waiting list for another inpatient program, which recommended she attend outpatient services until she was able to start, but the mother did not do so. The mother was to begin the inpatient program on October 2, but the mother failed to show up on that day. She was allowed to come in four days later to begin the program. Three weeks later, while meeting with DHS, the mother reportedly asked, "If I am not to get [the child] back, why am I here?" The mother was accepted into recovery court on December 12 but was unsuccessfully discharged on January 22, 2018, because she did not engage or attend and did not maintain contact with the court team.[1]

         The court held a contested permanency hearing on November 21, 2017, during which the mother testified she had not used methamphetamine for forty-six days, but prior to that time, she was using it on a daily basis. She requested an extension to allow more time for progress. Despite this period of sobriety, the court denied the request for an extension and found the record was insufficient to demonstrate a reasonable likelihood the mother would be able to regain custody within the next six months due to her lack of progress in this case as well as in her previous cases. In light of the mother's history of drug use, other treatment attempts, and lack of insight into her addiction, the court modified the primary permanency goal of reunification to termination of parental rights. The court allowed visitation to continue and the court encouraged the mother to remain in her treatment program to address her substance-abuse issues since no final determination had been made at that time. During the hearing, the court scheduled a termination pretrial conference for January 10, 2018, and a termination hearing for January 23.

         On November 24, 2017, the mother did not return to the inpatient program after receiving a pass for an off-grounds meeting. She returned the following day and the program placed her on a behavioral management plan in which she would be immediately discharged from the program if she left again. Though the mother claimed she did not relapse, a urinalysis administered after she returned was positive for methamphetamine. On December 21, the mother left the program again and did not return. The mother was discharged from the program the following day without having successfully completed the program. DHS has not received any information about the mother reengaging in any services since leaving the program.

         Before attending the inpatient treatment program, the mother's visits with the child were inconsistent. While in the program, she did visit with the child four times per week, during which DHS reported she was attentive. The mother progressed to semi-supervised visits for a short time while she was in treatment, but otherwise her visits were supervised. The mother has not visited with the child since leaving the treatment program in December.

         On December 20, the State petitioned the court to terminate the parental rights of the mother and father. On January 16, 2018, the State filed a motion to dispense with service of the petition on the mother, contending it had conducted a reasonably diligent search for her and, despite its efforts, it was unable to locate her. It provided an affidavit of diligent search by its investigator. The ...

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