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In re X.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF X.M., Minor Child, D.R., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Appanoose County, William S. Owens, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          Jonathan Willier, Centerville, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Debra A. George of Griffing & George Law Firm, PLC, Centerville, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          VOGEL, JUDGE.

         The mother appeals the district court's termination of her parental rights to her son, X.M. She argues the State did not prove X.M. could not be safely returned to her custody, the State did not make reasonable efforts to return X.M. to her custody, and termination is not in X.M.'s best interest. We agree with the district court and affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) on or around December 11, 2015, upon reports the mother was using methamphetamine. At the time, the mother lived with her eventual-husband[1] and her four children-X.M. and three girls.[2] The mother and her eventual-husband refused drug testing and denied using drugs, and the DHS noticed no behavioral indicators of drug use. However, the DHS developed concerns about supervision, food, and shelter during the initial meeting. The DHS began offering services to the family on January 7, 2016, including parenting skills and mental-health services. X.M. has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and moderate intellectual disability.

         During DHS visits, staff noted the house was in disarray with broken glass and an uncovered hole in the floor. Various inappropriate items were spread throughout the house within reach of the children, including a hammer X.M. had used to break glass and other objects. On multiple occasions, the children left the house without the mother's knowledge and without proper winter clothing, sometimes requiring law enforcement officials to locate and return the children. X.M. went to school several times with feces on his clothes. On or around February 1, 2016, X.M. started a fire in the family home, causing extensive damage and forcing the family to temporarily live in a motel. During one home visit, X.M. climbed on top of a refrigerator and sprayed a cleaning product on his head; DHS staff moved him and cleaned him while the mother remained seated nearby.

         On March 28, 2016, the children were picked up after having wandered unsupervised around a park for several hours. The children were sunburned, X.M. had scratches on his arms and face, and they said they had had nothing to eat or drink that day. The DHS then removed the children from the mother's care. X.M. was placed in a foster home separate from his siblings. He transitioned to a second foster family after his first foster family determined they could not meet his special needs. At the time of the hearing, X.M. remained in his second foster home where his behavior and development had improved.

         The mother's husband has a prior conviction for sexually abusing his biological daughter from a previous marriage. The juvenile court initially prohibited him from contacting these children, but DHS staff believed the mother allowed him to continue having contact with the children. The order was eventually lifted and he began to participate in supervised visits. On July 14, 2017, an altercation between the mother and her husband resulted in charges of domestic abuse assault against the husband. Soon after, the mother acknowledged her husband had assaulted her multiple times over the prior several months. A no-contact order soon followed barring the husband from contacting the family, and the DHS ended visits with the husband. The mother and the husband eventually resumed living together in violation of the order. On November 28, the husband was ultimately sentenced on a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. The no-contact order was cancelled on January 30, 2018. At the time of the termination hearing, the mother and her husband had not participated in couples counseling despite a DHS recommendation to do so.

         In the months prior to termination, the mother was allowed semi-supervised visits with the children every other Saturday. She cancelled about half of the visits. She testified most of the cancellations were due to illness resulting from her "nerves." She acknowledged the ...


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