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In re P.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF P.H., Minor Child, N.H., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Chickasaw County, David F. Staudt, Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental relationship with her nine-year-old daughter.

          David A. Kuehner of Eggert, Erb, Kuehner & DeBower PLC, Charles City, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Andrew P. Thalacker, Waterloo, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Nine-year-old P.H. has behavioral issues, trouble bonding, and "a lot of anger" stemming from early childhood traumas, according to her therapist. In terminating the parental relationship between P.H. and her mother, the juvenile court concluded the mother's "poor parenting skills have contributed to the child's trauma." The mother appeals the termination order, alleging the State did not prove P.H. would be unable to return to her care without suffering abuse or neglect.[1] After reviewing the record, we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court-reunification is not possible given the risk of ongoing harm to P.H.[2]

         The juvenile court temporarily removed P.H. from her home after the mother repeatedly failed to pick her up from first grade. In March 2016, the juvenile court adjudicated P.H. as a child in need of assistance (CINA). The detailed CINA order chronicled P.H.'s reports of physical abuse at the hands of her mother and the child's "self-injurious" behaviors at school. The order also noted a neurologist had diagnosed P.H. with "absent seizures" but the mother was inconsistent in administering the child's medication. Notwithstanding its concerns, the juvenile court returned the child to the mother's care under the supervision of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).

         In July 2016, the State again applied for a temporary removal order, asserting the whereabouts of the family were unknown-the mother initially said they were camping in central Iowa, but actually moved with P.H. to Indiana without notice to the DHS. In August 2016, P.H. returned to Iowa with her paternal aunt, who has since been the child's placement.

         Following her return to Iowa, P.H. was evaluated by psychologist George Harper. P.H. told Dr. Harper she had seen her mother's wife, Jessica, hit her mother. In a phone call with Dr. Harper, the mother confirmed she was previously in an abusive relationship and P.H. was exposed to domestic violence before entering kindergarten. P.H. also revealed her mother had physically and emotionally abused her. Dr. Harper opined the abuse P.H. suffered early in her life "has had a very adverse impact on [her] psychological development." Dr. Harper also noted P.H.'s delayed intellectual development. Dr. Harper diagnosed the eight-year-old girl with major depressive disorder, trauma and stressor-related disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

         Although she returned to Iowa for court hearings, the mother remained living in Indiana until January 2018. Despite her history of mental-health issues, the mother did not consistently participate in services recommended by DHS. She also was sporadic in her contact with P.H.-in the nineteen months P.H. was in her aunt's care leading up to the termination hearing, the mother had only nine face-to-face visits with her daughter. The DHS also offered the mother telephone contact with P.H., but she did not always take advantage of the opportunity- sometimes missing the calls, and sometimes being argumentative with P.H.'s aunt and caregiver. After the mother returned to Iowa, she was sleeping in a friend's living room and was still "working on getting [her] own place" at the time of the termination hearing.

         The State filed a petition to terminate parental rights in December 2017. After a hearing in mid-March 2018, the juvenile court issued its termination order in May. The juvenile court relied on Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) as the basis ...


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