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In re J.K.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF J.K. and S.K., Minor Children, E.K., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cherokee County, Mary L. Timko, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two minor children.

          Theresa Rachel of Fankhauser Rachel, PLC, Sioux City, for appellant mother.

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

          Lesley D. Rynell of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two minor children, born in 2007 and 2011. She argues: (1) the State failed to prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence, (2) termination is not in the best interests of the children, (3) the juvenile court should have applied the statutory exception to termination contained in Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(c) (2018), and (4) the court erred in declining to grant her a six-month extension to work toward reunification.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in late April 2017 upon information the mother was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The mother admitted to using methamphetamine and marijuana. In early May, a DHS worker conducted a home visit, during which the mother admitted to using methamphetamine and the father denied any drug use and any knowledge of drug use on the part of the mother. Shortly thereafter, the father tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine and the mother tested negative for drugs. The father later reported to DHS that he and the mother used a cleansing shampoo in order to manipulate the hair-stat test that was administered and it worked for the mother but not for him. The mother admitted the same in her testimony at the termination hearing. The father also readily admitted that he and the mother used drugs together.

         The children were removed from the parents' care on May 11 and placed in foster care. The mother underwent a substance-abuse evaluation on May 22, but she refused to submit to a drug test at the evaluation center. Subsequent revelations included that the parents' relationship involved verbal abuse and domestic violence, the family home was uninhabitable and neither parent was living in it, and both parents were drug addicts. In June, as a result of these revelations, the children were adjudicated to be children in need of assistance. In late June, the children were placed with a paternal aunt, where they remained for the remainder of the proceedings.

         DHS requested the mother submit to drug testing on June 21, but the mother failed to appear. As a result of the mother's actions toward the father on June 28, she was charged with domestic abuse assault. The mother tested positive for methamphetamine use on July 10. She was admitted into an extensive outpatient treatment program on July 18. According to her discharge summary, the mother was inconsistent in attending treatment and minimally participated when she did attend. She eventually stopped attending treatment altogether and did not respond to attempts at contact by the treatment program. She was unsuccessfully discharged from the program.

         The mother underwent a mental-health evaluation in August. The assessment report indicates the mother continued to use methamphetamine at the time she was evaluated. In late August, DHS discovered the mother began living with a known drug user. At the termination hearing, the mother admitted to living with a number of individuals during the proceedings with histories of drug use. On August 28, the mother tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamines, and THC. Throughout the month of September, she evaded a number of random drug screens. Late that month, the mother was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, along with a number of other crimes, as a result of a traffic stop in which she attempted to evade police. The mother admitted to officers that she was in possession of a methamphetamine pipe. When officers located the pipe, it contained burnt residue.

         On November 20, the mother tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamines, MDMA, opiates, oxycodone, and THC. She reported she was taking Percocet and oxycodone at this time. The mother underwent another substance-abuse evaluation in late November, at which time she tested positive for methamphetamine and reported she used the same one to three times in the past month. She tested negative for drugs on three occasions in December and early January 2018. In early January, however, DHS received information that the mother was using someone else's urine to pass her drug screens. Staff at the treatment center reported it was against their policies to observe the provision of urine samples. A sweat-patch test was administered as to the mother from January 16 through 26. It came back positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines. In early 2018, the mother largely ...


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