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In re T.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 21, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF T.J., Minor Child, S.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E. Seymour, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

          Nancy L. Pietz, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Karl Wolle of Juvenile Public Defender Office, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Sarah appeals the termination of her parental relationship with seven-year-old T.J. She argues the State failed to prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence; termination would be detrimental to T.J. because of the parent-child bond; and termination is not necessary because T.J. is living with Sarah's mother. After reviewing the record anew, [1] we reach the same conclusions as the juvenile court. We thus affirm the termination of Sarah's parental rights.

         The family first came to the attention of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in December 2016 when the DHS received reports Sarah and T.J.'s father, Travis, were using methamphetamine while caring for T.J. Travis also assaulted Sarah in T.J.'s presence. Both parents have a long history of substance abuse and mutual domestic violence.

         The court ordered the DHS to remove T.J. from his parents' care. The DHS placed T.J. with his maternal grandmother, Vicki, where he has remained throughout this case. At the time of removal, Sarah and Travis tested positive for methamphetamine and opiates. Travis reported he and Sarah used methamphetamine daily. Sarah reported Travis struck her in front of T.J. T.J. also said he saw his dad hit his mom. This incident resulted in a founded child abuse assessment against Sarah and Travis, as well as criminal charges against Travis, who already had a lengthy criminal record. The court ordered the parents to attend substance abuse treatment and individual and couples therapy to address their drug abuse, mental health, and domestic violence issues.

         For the next year, the DHS offered services to the parents. Sarah completed substance abuse treatment and tested negative for drugs. Sarah and Travis attended couples therapy together. But Travis was inconsistent in his substance abuse treatment and mental health therapy, impeded somewhat by repeated stints in jail on unrelated charges. In January 2018, the court allowed a six-month extension for the parents to continue working toward reunification. In February 2018, despite informing the DHS their relationship was over, Sarah and Travis resumed living together.

         At the time of the termination hearing, the DHS reported Travis continued to take prescribed narcotics for various injuries despite his addiction to opiates.[2]Because of these prescriptions, he gave several positive drug tests. The tests also revealed substances not accounted for by his prescriptions. He did not complete substance abuse treatment, and denied on the stand that he had a substance abuse problem. He also testified he had only been high around T.J. a couple times, contradicting his and Sarah's earlier admissions. Travis further denied ever assaulting Sarah.

         Sarah showed more promise in her efforts to regain custody. She successfully completed drug treatment and maintained her sobriety. She was generally meeting case expectations and court orders.

         But domestic violence concerns continued to cloud Sarah's prospects for reunification. At the termination hearing, Sarah recanted earlier statements that Travis assaulted her in December 2016. Originally, she reported Travis punched and slapped her, giving her a swollen eye. But at the hearing she testified they were mutually pushing and shoving each other and she received the eye injury from a fall. Sarah also testified she believed Travis had adequately addressed his substance abuse and domestic violence issues, despite his failure to complete any ...


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