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In re M.W.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 26, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF M.W., M.C., T.C., D.C., G.C., and A.C., Minor Children, C.S., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Deborah Farmer Minot, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals a juvenile court order terminating her parental rights to three of six children and concluding the State made reasonable efforts to reunify the family.

          Rachel C.B. Antonuccio of Public Defender's Office, Iowa City, for appellant mother.

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

          Anthony A. Haughton of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Carrie, appeals a juvenile court order involving her six children- ages one, two, three, six, seven and nine years. The order terminated her parental relationship with the three youngest children and rejected her reasonable-efforts challenge regarding all six children. On appeal, Carrie claims the State did not make a satisfactory effort to reunify the family because social workers suspended her visitation with the children. She contends the State did not present clear and convincing evidence termination was warranted under Iowa Code subsections 232.116(1)(d) and (h) (2018). And she argues the juvenile court should have decided against termination because of her strong bond with the children. See Iowa Code § 232.116(3)(c). After considering Carrie's claims in light of the entire record, we concur with the juvenile court's meticulous and well-reasoned termination order.[1]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Carrie had her oldest child, M.W., in 2008, two years after graduating from high school. She separated from the child's father, Murray, a few months after giving birth. Joe is the father of the other five children. Neither father is a party to this appeal. In 2009, Joe and Carrie moved into a trailer, which remained Carrie's residence throughout this case. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) intervened with this family in 2015 and 2016 due to the children's unsanitary and unsafe living conditions.

         In February 2017, Michelle Schuerer, the Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) worker, started providing services to the family. She noted the filthy condition of the home, including "bugs crawling on the floor," open trash bags, dirty diapers, mice feces, and holes in the wall exposing wiring near the bathtub. Schuerer recalled: "Carrie was there with five children at the time . . . . And the children just kind of seemed to be running round doing whatever they desired." Schuerer also reported the parents left power tools within reach of the children. The family did not have enough beds for all the children. The children reported being hungry and anxious about food. The parents had not been bathing the children because the tub had a hole in it. The children also had unmet medical and dental needs.

         Although Joe and Carrie started home improvement projects, they never really eliminated the clutter, bug and mice infestations, sewage backups, and other hazards.[2] In early summer 2017, the child protection services of the DHS found a denial of critical care for lack of proper supervision of the children. When Schuerer found the household "more chaotic than normal" a few days later, Carrie said she could not do much to calm the situation due to her pregnancy. Carrie also told the FSRP worker she did not trust Joe to care for the children on his own because of his mental-health condition. Carrie's youngest, A.C., was born in June 2017.

         In July the State filed a petition alleging five children were children in need of assistance (CINA) due to the unsafe conditions in the home. In October 2017, Carrie stipulated to the CINA adjudication. The juvenile court issued an order for temporary removal, based in part on allegations from M.W. that Joe "is mean to her and threatens to throw her out the door" and the only time he is nice to her is when he is tickling her upper thigh area.

         In November and December 2017, FSRP worker Schuerer supervised twelve visits between the parents and the six children. The juvenile court accurately described their interactions as "ongoing chaos." Carrie was so overwhelmed and unengaged, the children sometimes asked to end the visits early. After one visit, Carrie's seven-year-old son, M.C., poignantly explained why he was happy to go back to his foster home: they "keep me clean, eat dinner with me, and read me bedtime stories." The children also reported having seen Joe place his hands ...

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