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In re P.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 7, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF P.J., Minor Child,
v.
V. S., Mother, Appellant, D.J., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Christine Dalton Ploof, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father both challenge a juvenile court order terminating their parental relationships with their daughter.

          Rebecca G. Ruggero, Davenport, for appellant mother. Steven W. Stickle of Stickle Law Firm, P.L.C., Davenport, for appellant father.

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

          Rebecca C. Sharpe of Aitken, Aitken & Sharpe, P.C., Bettendorf, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          TABOR, PRESIDING JUDGE.0

         A mother, Victoria, and a father, Dustin, separately appeal the juvenile court order terminating their parental relationships with their now six-year-old daughter, P.J. Both parents argue the record lacks clear and convincing evidence supporting termination and termination is not in P.J.'s best interests. Dustin also contends the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to make reasonable efforts to reunite him with P.J. After reviewing the record, we reach the same conclusions as the juvenile court.[1]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         P.J. was born in October 2012. The DHS first intervened with the family in the summer of 2017 after receiving reports the parents had physically abused P.J. The child also witnessed violence between her parents. The juvenile court ordered P.J.'s removal from her parents' care and approved placement with her maternal uncle and aunt. They have provided P.J. a stable home throughout the case.

         In August 2017, the parents stipulated P.J. was a child in need of assistance (CINA). The juvenile court accepted the stipulation, finding adjudication appropriate under Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(b) and (c)(2) (2017), explaining:

[T]he State has provided clear and convincing evidence that the parents have been disciplining the child by hitting her. This has left bruising to her lower back and a minor cut to her lip. The mother is struggling with alcoholism. The father has admitted selling marijuana from the residence. Both these issues demonstrate a potential for harm due to inadequate or inappropriate supervision.

         In addition to her physical injuries, mental-health therapists diagnosed P.J. with post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Therapist Adam Vilmont testified he had "never seen a five-year-old child that has been this significantly traumatized by her parents." P.J. struggled with tantrums and self-harm, including biting and strangulation.

         Concurrent with the child-welfare case, the State charged both parents with child endangerment for their abuse of P.J. But even with the criminal charges pending, neither Dustin nor Victoria took the necessary steps to repair their ...


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