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In re E.T.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF E.T., Minor Child, J.R., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Christine Dalton Ploof, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          Steven W. Stickle of Stickle Law Firm, PLC, Davenport, for appellant mother.

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

          Christine D. Frederick of Zamora Taylor Woods & Frederick, Davenport, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to E.T., born May 2008.[1] On appeal, the mother argues termination under section 232.116(1)(d), (f), (g), and (i) (2018) is not supported by clear and convincing evidence. She also argues she was denied reasonable efforts at reunification and termination is not in the child's best interest.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) was first involved with the family in 2013, when E.T. and his siblings were adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA) for their mother's failure to keep them safe from physical and sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence, and homelessness. E.T. and his siblings witnessed E.T.'s biological father assault the mother. E.T.'s biological father was convicted of sexual assault of the mother's oldest child, and both the mother and E.T.'s biological father were found to have physically abused all of the mother's children, including E.T.

         In August 2014, new concerns came to light regarding the mother's sobriety and living situation. The mother had trouble maintaining a residence; she moved between friends, family, and shelters without notifying DHS. She struggled with substance abuse and did not engage in treatment when recommended. The mother had voluntarily placed the children with a friend before E.T. and his siblings were adjudicated CINA in October and formally placed with the mother's friend.

         In January 2015, the court ordered the children be returned to the care of their mother. E.T.'s half-sibling, J.W., refused to return to her mother's care. The court found she had true fears of returning to her mother's care and placed her in foster care. While in his mother's care, E.T. began exhibiting problematic behaviors at school, earning twelve days of suspension and missing nineteen days of school between January and April. E.T. was reduced to half days at school due to his major behavioral issues. In May, J.W.'s foster parent reported she smelled alcohol on the mother. The mother tested positive for alcohol use.

         In August, the mother was discharged from her substance-abuse treatment program for a lack of participation and follow through. DHS made an unannounced visit to test her for alcohol use. While the test was not completed, the mother admitted she had relapsed and had been drinking. The mother was also not consistently taking the children to therapy or school or participating in her own mental-health treatment. Another concern was the mother's paramour, a parolee who also struggles with substance abuse, testing positive for cocaine in August. A safety plan by DHS restricted contact between the mother's paramour and the children. Statements by the children suggest the mother was not following through on the safety plan: E.T. told the guardian ad litem (GAL) the paramour does not stay overnight, then turned to his brother and stated, "Is she the one we are supposed to tell?"

         In December, E.T. and his brother were removed. The mother had not reengaged in substance-abuse treatment and her paramour was arrested in her car after a short car chase. Cocaine was found in the vehicle, and her paramour tested positive for cocaine use. In ...


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