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In re I.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF I.M., Minor Child, C.M., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marion County, Steven W. Guiter, District Associate Judge.

         The mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to one of her children. AFFIRMED.

          Charles E. Isaacson of Charles Isaacson Law, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          William E. Sales III of Sales Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, attorney for minor child.

          Terzo R. Steves of Steves Law Firm, PLLC, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.


         The mother[1] appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, I.M., who was born in 2007.[2] The mother maintains there is not clear and convincing evidence to support the termination of her rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) (2017) as I.M. could be returned to her care at the time of the termination hearing. She also contends termination is not in I.M.'s best interests.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         I.M. and his older sister, A.M.,-who is not at issue in this appeal-were removed from the mother's care in January 2016 after the mother called 911 and reported bed bugs were in her skin. The mother was transported to the hospital, where she tested positive for methamphetamine. In the months leading up to the removal, the mother had other issues documented by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), including two child-abuse assessments resulting from the mother's decision to leave the children home alone for a number of days while she went to a local casino to gamble. The children were often unable to reach the mother while she was gone and did not know where she was or when she would return. Additionally, around the same time, A.M.-who was then fourteen years old-moved a twenty-two-year-old man into the family home for a week without the mother noticing.

         In the social worker's child-abuse assessment summary, he noted:

This worker has been acquainted with [the mother] for the past 9 years. [She] loves her []children and has done the best that she has been able to do for many years with them. [She] has maintained a nice home. [She] has tried to give the children everything they need and she is very upset now that they have been removed. [She] for the past year has gone downhill physically. She is continuing to recover from a stroke so has made some gains but cannot drive at night, has diabetes, possible kidney issues and states she cannot walk down the stairs. [The mother] has had a host of bad circumstance[s] and now bad decisions that have greatly concerned this worker. Over the past few months [her] finances were a big concern. [The mother] began gambling and stayed away on at least two occasions for several days from the home, leaving the children home alone. [She] has now tested positive for methamphetamine.

         In March 2016, I.M. was adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA). Later the same month, the mother submitted to a urine test, which showed a positive result for cocaine.

         According to DHS's April 2016 report to the court, the mother has struggled with mental-health issues her entire life. She suffered a mental breakdown after separating from the father of her three biological children. She then turned to drugs as a coping mechanism. However, the mother maintains she lived a life of recovery for over twenty years before she used methamphetamine one time in January 2016. The mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia with chronic auditory hallucinations, an anxiety disorder, a mild alcohol use disorder, and a mild amphetamine type substance stimulant use disorder. Medical personnel noted a "strong suspicion" the mother was engaged in "very inconsistent medication compliance"-possibly due to her inability to keep track of when she last took her medication.

         In June, the mother told the social worker that her positive drug test for cocaine was not due to her purposeful ingestion. Rather, she claimed she was struggling with lack of money and chose to help her cousin, a known drug dealer, cut cocaine in exchange for cash. She maintained that she cut her finger and accidently got cocaine in the wound.

         In July, the mother got into a physical altercation with one of her adult daughters. According to the police report from the incident, the adult daughter was lying in the hallway when the mother began to argue with her before ultimately pushing and trying to strike the daughter. The mother injured her hand during the incident and ultimately had to undergo surgery.

         In September, the mother was discharged from drug treatment for failure to attend. The same month, DHS learned-from speaking with the mother's regular physician-that the mother's "health had declined as a result of lack of follow through and self-medicating." The physician indicated the mother "had gone blind in one eye and should no longer be driving at night." Additionally, the physician reported that the mother had never suffered from a stroke, explaining, "[The mother] came in seeking treatment and was in a catatonic state due to the illegal substances she had taken. [The mother] refused any blood testing and fell to the floor in a fetal position when asked to have her blood drawn."

         At a doctor's appointment in October, the mother indicated she was still experiencing auditory hallucinations; she often heard music and voices mumbling to her. ...

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