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In re M.A.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF M.A., Minor Child, M.A., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Jason A. Burns, District Associate Judge.

         The mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child.

          Kathryn E. Davis, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.

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

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

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

          VOGEL, JUDGE.

         The mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to M.A., born January 2015.[1] She argues the State failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that grounds for termination exist under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(g) or (h) (2017), termination is not in the best interests of the child, and the strong bond between her and her child precludes termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(3). We find the State has proved the grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence, termination is in the best interests of the child, and there is nothing hindering termination.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) first took notice of this family in April 2017, when M.A. was admitted to the hospital with a broken left tibia. The incident occurred the day the mother was released from jail, during which time her live-in boyfriend had been caring for M.A.[2] Initially, hospital staff believed the explanation for the injury was suspicious and reported possible child abuse. An assessment was performed, and it was determined the injury could have been the result of an accident. The mother admitted she and her boyfriend recently used methamphetamine while M.A. was present in the home. A safety plan was constructed and provided that both would refrain from using illegal substances, both would participate in random drug testing, and M.A. would be subject to a hair- stat test. The safety services included a daily check on M.A. and required the boyfriend's mother to assist with the care of M.A.

         On April 19, M.A.'s hair-stat test results were positive for exposure and ingestion of methamphetamine. On April 21, the mother took M.A. to the hospital and demanded the cast be taken off M.A.'s leg despite medical advice that it remain in place for another four weeks. M.A. arrived without a diaper and was only wearing an adult-sized sweater soiled with urine. Hospital staff reported the mother's erratic behavior and noted she displayed characteristics of being under the influence of drugs, including jerky motions, unstable gait, and poor eye contact. On May 1, the mother's drug test results were positive for ingestion of methamphetamine and amphetamines. With the mother's stipulation that it was in the best interest of M.A. to be removed from her custody, M.A. was placed in the care of a foster family.

         On May 30, with the mother's written stipulation, M.A. was adjudicated as a child in need of assistance. Various services were offered or provided, including Family Treatment Court; drug testing; transportation assistance; parenting assistance; Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency services (FSRP); substance-abuse referrals; family team meetings; and mental-health referrals. The mother attended most of the supervised visitations with M.A. The mother also claimed she remained sober; however, she had multiple positive drug tests that indicated continued use of marijuana and methamphetamine. The mother insisted any positive test result was due to environmental exposure to drugs.

         The State filed a petition to terminate parental rights in November. The petition alleged the mother had made minimal progress since the case was opened and she continued to struggle with substance abuse. Additionally, the petition outlines the mother's history, which includes a prior arrest on drug-related charges, a prior termination of rights with respect to another child, and substance abuse.[3]

         On July 18, 2018, the district court found the State had proved by clear and convincing evidence the grounds for termination under Iowa Code ...


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