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In re T.J.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 7, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF T.J.M., Minor Child, S.M.N. and J.N., Intervenors, Appellants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Susan Flaherty, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         Intervenors appeal the juvenile court decision removing the Iowa Department of Human Services as the guardian of a child and placing the child in the guardianship of other relatives.

          Ellen R. Ramsey-Kacena, Cedar Rapids, for appellants S.M.N. and J.N. Angela M. Railsback of Railsback Law Office, Cedar Rapids, for intervenors B.W. and J.W.

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

          Melody J. Butz of Butz Law Offices, PC, Center Point, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Intervenors S.M.N. and J.N. appeal the juvenile court decision removing the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) as the guardian of a child and placing the child in the guardianship of other relatives. We conclude DHS did not act unreasonably, irresponsibly, or contrary to the best interests of the child when it determined the child should be permanently placed in the home of the maternal aunt. We reverse the juvenile court's decision removing DHS as the guardian of the child and placing the child in the guardianship and custody of the maternal great-uncle.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         S.M., mother, and T.J., father, are the parents of T.J.M., born in 2013. The mother has another child, S.J.M., who was born in 2014. The children were removed on April 7, 2016, due to the parents' use of illegal drugs and domestic violence in the home. T.J.M. was placed with an aunt, Se.M. S.J.M. was placed with her father, J.S.

         On April 10, 2016, S.M. gave birth to Z.M.S. The father of Z.M.S. is W.G. The child was born prematurely and had extensive medical problems. Z.M.S. tested positive for methamphetamine at birth and was removed from the mother's care. Z.M.S. was placed with a maternal aunt, S.M.N., and her husband, J.N.[1]

         Se.M. informed DHS she did not intend to be a long-term placement for T.J.M. Initially, S.M.N. stated she did not believe she could care for T.J.M. due to the extensive care Z.M.S. needed. The DHS caseworker, Debby Bailey, approached a maternal great-uncle, B.W., and his wife, J.W., [2] who stated they could not take T.J.M. immediately because they were moving. In January 2017, Bailey decided to move T.J.M. to the home of the maternal great-uncle, based on her belief T.J.M. and Z.M.S. should be in separate homes so they could each get more individual attention. Within a few days, the maternal aunt stated Z.M.S. had improved to the point where she could also care for T.J.M. Bailey decided not to move T.J.M. at that time, stating the child's permanent placement would be determined later. She testified she knew she did not have the ability to determine the child's permanent placement and this decision would be made by the DHS adoption unit.

         On July 28, 2017, the juvenile court terminated the parental rights of S.M., T.J., and W.G.[3] The termination order provided:

That custody and guardianship of the children is placed with the Department of Human Services for purposes of continued placement according to the prior orders of this Court and for preadoptive placement. The Department of Human Services is ordered to prepare an amended case permanency plan within thirty days of the date of this order setting out the change to termination of parental rights and preadoptive placement.

         The court determined S.J.M. "shall continue in the care and custody of her father," J.S.

         After the termination, both the maternal great-uncle and maternal aunt expressed an interest in adopting T.J.M. The case was transferred from Bailey to Brianne Arends, who worked in the DHS adoption unit. Based on Iowa Code section 232.108 (2017) and DHS guidelines, which state a preference for placing a child with siblings, Arends determined there needed to be serious consideration to having T.J.M. and Z.M.S. live in the same home. A physician stated Z.M.S. should not be exposed to pet dander and the maternal great-uncle has several pets, so Z.M.S. did not visit the great-uncle's home. Although T.J.M. had been spending some time in the maternal ...


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