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In re E.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF E.C., Minor Child, E.M., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cass County, Amy L. Zacharias, District Associate Judge.

         The father appeals from the termination of his parental rights.

          Gina C. Badding of Neu, Minnich, Comito, Halbur, Neu & Badding, PC, Carroll, for appellant father.

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

          Karen L. Mailander of Mailander Law Office, Atlantic, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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


         The father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child, E.C., born in July 2014. The juvenile court terminated the father's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d), (h), and (i) (2018). The father challenges the statutory grounds, maintains termination is not in E.C.'s best interests, and argues a permissive factor weighs against termination. He asks us to reverse the termination and return E.C. to his care but argues in the alternative that the juvenile court should have given him an extension of time to work toward reunification.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         E.C., the child at issue, is the daughter of the mother and the father. E.C.'s older half-sibling, J.L., has the same mother, Beth, but is not the biological child of the father.[1] At the time these proceedings began, in September 2016, Beth was caring for E.C. and J.L. and was no longer in a relationship with J.L.'s father or with E.C.'s s father.

         Both children were removed from the mother's care by emergency order after she was arrested for driving while under the influence of methamphetamine; E.C. was in the vehicle at the time. The reason is unclear, but the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) did not immediately make contact with the father. Instead, both E.C. and J.L. were placed in shelter care.

         In November 2016, both children were adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA) pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.6(b), (c)(2), and (n) (2016). Around the same time, the mother moved into the father's home, and they resumed a relationship. The pair received services together, and both E.C. and J.L. participated in visits together with both the mother and the father.

         DHS continued to have concerns about the mother's mental health and her ability to refrain from using methamphetamine, but the department believed the father was a positive support for her. As of April 2017, DHS reported to the court that the father was "a responsible and caring father figure to both children." Similarly, in its April 2017 combined review/modification order, the court noted the father "has been cooperative and receptive to feedback. [He] is employed and provides for the family." The parents progressed to semi-supervised visits with the children.

         As of July 2017, DHS scheduled a one-week trial period for the children to be in the mother and father's care. When the service provider dropped the children off at the home, the mother and father had been arguing. The next day, the service provider returned to the family home "to help de-escalate" and asked the father to leave. The father told the service provider he was ending his relationship with the mother and moving out. Both E.C. and J.L. were left in the mother's care. However, later that day, DHS received a call on the child-abuse intake hotline, during which the caller alleged the mother had taken the children to get physicals and appeared "twitchy," "anxious," and "fidgety." The service provider returned to the family home to check on the mother, who admitted she had not been taking her anti-anxiety medication or attending therapy. The unsupervised visit was then ended early, and the children were placed in foster care near the mother's home. The mother took a drug test that day, which later returned positive results for methamphetamine and amphetamines.

         After the father moved out of the family home, the parents started receiving separate services and visits. The visits returned to fully supervised for both parents. J.L. told DHS he did not want to attend visits with the father, and J.L. began attending them only sporadically. The father often asked about J.L. and indicated he would like to see him and wanted to continue to be a placement option for him.

         The notes from the September 2017 family team meeting indicate "needs" for the mother, including attending parenting class, mental-health therapy, and medication management. The "family goal" states, "[The mother] will maintain sobriety and manage her mental health, for a period of six consecutive months, as evidenced by maintaining a regular routine including sleep times, regulating and managing her anger, and communicating better with others." Additionally, the mother agreed to engage in a number of things, such as drug testing. The notes are silent as to any needs or goals for the father, other than stating he agrees to participate in drug testing, as required. There is no evidence in the record DHS ever asked the father ...

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