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In re M.Q.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF M.Q. and C.Q., Minor Children, C.Q., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Buena Vista County, Mary L. McCollum Timko, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A father appeals a juvenile court order terminating his parental rights to two children.

          Andrew J. Smith of Mack, Hansen, Gadd, Armstrong & Brown, PC, Storm Lake, for appellant father.

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

          Kara L. Minnihan, Onawa, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         "I haven't been a parent for my kids," Christian candidly testified at the hearing on the petition to terminate his parental relationship with his daughter, M.Q., and son, C.Q. But on appeal Christian challenges the juvenile court's conclusion he abandoned the children. He also contends termination of his parental rights is not in the children's best interests. The juvenile court concluded "Christian's actions are the epitome of the word abandonment." On our de novo review, we reach the same conclusion.[1] And given Christian's admitted methamphetamine addiction and criminal conduct, we conclude the children's safety and long-term nurturing and growth is best served by termination of his parental rights.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Christian's use of methamphetamine while caring for then nine-month-old M.Q. first brought this family to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in May 2016. Christian was living with M.Q.'s mother, Claudia.[2]The DHS later learned Christian's brother broke into the family's apartment looking for methamphetamine; Christian physically fought with his brother in M.Q.'s presence. After an initial investigation, the DHS instructed Claudia to keep M.Q. away from Christian until he underwent drug testing. The State believed Claudia, who was pregnant with their second child, "loosely" followed the safety plan-living with her mother.

         C.Q. was born in August 2016. Three months later, due to the family's continued instability, the juvenile court adjudicated M.Q. as a child in need of assistance (CINA). The court adjudicated C.Q. as a CINA in January 2017.

         That same month, the court ordered Christian to complete a substance-abuse evaluation. The court allowed Christian to remain in the home with Claudia and the children but cautioned the arrangement would change if he continued using controlled substances. Christian successfully completed impatient treatment in March and engaged in outpatient treatment following his discharge. But one month later, Christian used methamphetamine and marijuana to celebrate his birthday.

         In early May 2017, the DHS developed a new safety plan under which Claudia and the children would stay at a shelter. A short time later, Claudia and the children moved in with Christian's parents. Christian was expected to contact DHS to set up visits. Christian did not do so. While his family stayed at the shelter, Christian would stop by without contacting DHS and ask Claudia for money. Christian attempted to visit his parents' home on two occasions, but they turned him away because such contact was unauthorized. Then Christian stopped visiting all together. Claudia told workers she did not know his whereabouts until November when he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and received a probationary sentence. Christian violated his probation and was in custody at the time of the termination hearing.

         In December, the State filed a petition to terminate Christian's parental rights, citing Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(b), (e), and (h) (2017). The juvenile court held a hearing on the petition in January 2018. At the time of the hearing, M.Q. was seventeen months old and C.Q. was five months old. In his testimony, Christian admitted having no contact with his children since late April or early May 2017. He also admitted he had not provided financially or emotionally for his children-with the exception of a small contribution to buy a Christmas gift. But ...


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