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In re J.W.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 10, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF J.W., Minor Child, G.G., Mother, Appellant, J.W., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Adam Sauer, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights.

          Michael J. Moeller of Sorensen & Moeller Law Office, Clear Lake, for appellant mother.

          Crystal L. Ely of McGuire Law Firm, PC, Mason City, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Jane M. Wright, Forest City, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to their child, born in 2017. Both parents challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds for termination, claim additional time to work toward reunification should be granted, and argue the State failed to make reasonable efforts to facilitate reunification.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The child, J.W., first came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in April 2017, five days after birth, because of the mother's drug use. The mother tested positive for methamphetamine and barbiturates at separate times during prenatal exams and tested positive for methamphetamine two days after J.W.'s birth.[1] Further, the mother was being evicted, and she had no plans for housing. The court ordered the child's removal on April 19 based on the mother's substance-abuse issues and unstable housing. However, after DHS informed the mother of the removal, she disappeared with the child. The police found the mother at approximately 9:00 p.m. that same evening, with the maternal grandmother but without the child. She refused to disclose J.W.'s location, and the police took her into custody.[2] After receiving additional information, the police took possession of the child at approximately 10:00 p.m. at a local convenience store.

         DHS then placed J.W. into foster care and provided the mother supervised visitation several times per week. During most visitations, the mother was attentive to the child's needs, but DHS noted a lack of a bond between the mother and child. The mother missed a number of visits and never progressed beyond fully supervised visitation. A maternal great-aunt, who lives in Minnesota, assumed care of J.W. in October. The mother encouraged the placement, despite knowing the effect on her own visitation. After the transfer of care to the great-aunt, the mother ceased contact and made no attempts to see J.W. or inquire about the child's well-being. Further, she failed to remain in contact with DHS, cancelling or failing to attend scheduled appointments until December when she informed DHS she was pregnant. In February 2018 the mother asked for supervised visits. DHS attempted to set up visitation but could not locate appropriate services and providers due to the lack of funding and the inability of Iowa providers to cross state lines. DHS did not know the mother's residence from December 2017 until April 2018, when she reported to DHS she was living in Minnesota with the father.

         For a short period of time, the parents and J.W. both resided in Minnesota. The parents attempted to locate providers for supervised visitation but were unsuccessful. However, on several occasions the parents sat across from the great-aunt's house to watch J.W. J.W. was removed from the great-aunt's care in June due to safety concerns because, though the great-aunt reported feeling fearful and despite instruction, she failed to call the authorities when the parents watched her house. Further, her husband refused to acquire the required license to allow J.W. to remain in their care, so the child was returned to foster care in Iowa.

         During the pendency of this case, the court ordered substance-abuse and mental-health treatment for the mother. The mother completed a mental-health evaluation but did not follow any treatment recommendation to address her mental-health issues. Further, the mother attempted substance-abuse treatment on four occasions without success. She tested positive for drugs during each of her treatment attempts and failed to appear for any testing required by DHS. The mother continued to use methamphetamine until December 2017, when she discovered she was pregnant, and continued to use marijuana and alcohol throughout her current pregnancy. The mother was unemployed throughout this case, relying on services and friends to meet her needs. The mother did suggest the maternal grandmother, who also lives in Minnesota, as a potential placement or visitation supervisor since the maternal grandmother previously assumed custody of the mother's four other children. After investigation, DHS deemed the grandmother an ...


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