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In re N.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF N.H., Minor Child,
v.
V.B., Maternal Grandmother, Appellant-Intervenor.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hancock County, Karen Kaufman Salic, District Associate Judge.

         Intervenor appeals from the juvenile court's order denying a motion to modify placement.

          Colin R. McCormack of Van Cleaf & McCormack Law Firm, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant maternal grandmother.

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

          Carrie Jean Rodriguez of Garland & Rodriguez, Garner, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., Bower, J., and Mahan, S.J. [*]

          MAHAN, SENIOR JUDGE.

         This appeal arises out of a proceeding to terminate parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 232 (2017). The juvenile court terminated the mother's and father's parental rights to their four-year-old child, N.H., and transferred guardianship and custody of the child to the department of human services. The department chose the child's foster-home placement as her adoptive home. The mother's appeal was dismissed as untimely; the father did not appeal.

         The maternal grandmother, intervenor V.B., now appeals from the juvenile court's order denying her motion to modify placement and have N.H. placed with her. We review the juvenile court's post-termination order de novo. See In re E.G., 745 N.W.2d 741, 743 (Iowa Ct. App. 2007).

         This family came to the attention of the department in 2016, when the mother (who had not known she was pregnant) delivered a baby, J., prematurely at home in the toilet. The mother and N.H. were residing with the maternal grandparents. Although the mother denied substance use, the mother, N.H., and J. all tested positive for methamphetamine. N.H. was removed from the home and placed in foster care in December 2016.[1]

         V.B.'s motion to intervene was granted in April 2017. V.B. repeatedly denied the mother's usage and stated the mother had no opportunity to use because V.B. was supervising her, even after the mother admitted to ongoing methamphetamine use and drug tests confirmed the mother's continued use. The department informed the court it did not support the child's placement with V.B.

         In a July 2017 review order, the juvenile court observed V.B. "continues to enable Mother's drug use, including lying to cover for her." The court found, "This is not helpful to reunification efforts, or the possibility of being able to safely place [N.H.] back in [V.B.]'s home." In the November 2017 permanency order, the court noted V.B. "continues to minimize and seem surprised by Mother's ongoing drug use." The court found V.B's ability to protect N.H. from the mother to be "questionable" and stated, "While [V.B.] no doubt loves [N.H.], she does not see how her inaction over the years has contributed to and enabled Mother's drug use and neglect of [N.H.]." The court also observed, "[I]t is unlikely [V.B.]'s home study would be approved for adoption (she has not started [foster parenting classes]) in a timely fashion, so moving [N.H.] from a home where she is doing well would be detrimental." Meanwhile, V.B. started a GoFundMe account to get N.H. "back from the State," claiming the family was being "bull[ied]" by the State. V.B. was allowed monthly supervised visits with N.H.

         As of the time of the termination hearing in February 2018, N.H. had been in the same foster home since her removal in 2016. The department did not support N.H.'s placement with V.B., citing concerns that V.B. continued to minimize the mother's drug use and claimed N.H.'s positive drug test was not accurate. The juvenile court acknowledged similar concerns in the termination order:

[V.B.] has consistently failed to acknowledge Mother's heavy and sustained drug addiction, claiming not to have noticed at all. Her lack of awareness allowed Mother to use methamphetamine daily for years and to expose [N.H.] and in utero, [J.], to drugs. Even after over a year of hearing Mother's eventual admissions of heavy drug use and multiple positive drug tests through the CINA case, she continues, even at the termination hearing, to deny Mother's use, make excuses and enable Mother's refusal to participate in treatment. She continues to dispute the accuracy of Mother's, [N.H.'s] and [J.'s] drug test results when [J.] was born, even though Mother admits she was using during that time. There is no doubt that [V.B.] loves ...

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