IN THE INTEREST OF L.S., Minor Child, S.S.-W., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Susan Cox,
District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her
minor child. AFFIRMED.
Zachary C. Priebe of Jeff Carter Law Offices, PC, Des Moines,
for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
M. Pattison of Drake Legal Clinic, Des Moines, guardian ad
litem for minor child.
Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
child in interest was born in October 2017. At this time, the
mother was a juvenile and residing in a youth detention
center as a result of juvenile delinquency proceedings;
termination proceedings were underway as to another of the
mother's children. A few days after the child's birth,
the State sought and obtained removal and filed a
child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) petition. The juvenile
court placed the child in the legal custody of the Iowa
Department of Human Services (DHS). The child was immediately
placed in foster care. The child was adjudicated a CINA in
October, the mother was discharged from the youth detention
center and moved into Ruth Harbor, a shelter that provides
assistance to young mothers and their children. She also
began attending therapy appointments and parenting classes.
Supervised visitations with the child at issue began in early
November. In December, as a result of the mother's
progress, DHS decided she would be allowed semi-supervised
visitation. In January 2018, the mother chose to leave Ruth
Harbor, despite the fact that she was on the brink of
reunification with the child in that facility. She was then
placed in a supervised apartment living program. The
mother's participation in therapy waned after her
departure from Ruth Harbor.
March 2018, an incident occurred in which the child almost
died from choking on a piece of candy while in the
mother's care during a visit. The mother blamed the
incident on someone else. The mother's visits with the
child reverted to fully supervised. A subsequent child-abuse
assessment was founded against the mother. By April, despite
attending parenting classes and receiving other services for
several months, the mother was still unable to exhibit the
skills necessary to parent or care for a young child. In a
May 2018 permanency order, the juvenile court directed the
State to initiate termination proceedings. The State filed
its petition in June. In July, visitations were suspended as
a result of the mother's threatening behavior.
concerns throughout the pendency of these proceedings have
related to the mother's mental-health issues, aggression,
inability to understand the child's basic needs, and
tendency to blame others for her shortcomings as a parent.
Although the mother has made some progress in other areas,
the main issues have not been resolved. Between May 2018 and
the time of the termination hearing, the mother generally
discontinued pursuing mental-health treatment, although she
did schedule a few appointments to take place in the weeks
leading up to the termination hearing. At the time of the
termination hearing in August, the mother had recently
obtained employment, moved into a suitable two-bedroom
apartment, and was pursuing her CORE diploma. The child has
been in the same foster-care placement since shortly after
his birth. He is thriving in his current placement and his
foster parents are willing to adopt him. The foster mother
testified she would be willing to continue to allow contact
between the mother and the child. At the time of the
termination hearing, the mother was five months pregnant with
a third child.
a hearing, the juvenile court terminated the mother's
parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(g) and (h)
(2018). The mother appeals this ruling. She challenges the
sufficiency of the evidence to support termination, argues
termination is not in the best interests of the child, and
contends the statutory exception to termination contained in
Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(c) should be applied to preclude
review of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings is de
novo. In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472 (Iowa 2018)
(quoting In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa
2014)). "We are not bound by the juvenile court's
findings of fact, but we do give them weight, especially in
assessing the credibility of witnesses." Id.
(quoting A.M., 843 N.W.2d at 110). Our primary
consideration is the best interests of the child. In re
J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006).
the mother contends the State failed to meet its burden for
termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(g) and (h).
"On appeal, we may affirm the juvenile court's
termination order on any ground that we find supported by
clear and convincing evidence." In re D.W., 791
N.W.2d 703, 707 (Iowa 2010). As to termination under
paragraph (h), the mother only challenges the State's
establishment of the final element of that provision-that the
child could not be returned to her care at the time of the
termination hearing. See Iowa Code §
232.116(1)(h)(4) (requiring "clear and convincing
evidence that the child cannot be returned to the custody of
the child's parents . . . at the present time");
D.W., 791 N.W.2d at 707 (interpreting the statutory
language "at the present time" to mean "at the
time of the termination hearing"). On this issue, the
mother simply points to the facts that she "has an
appropriate apartment in a safe neighborhood," which
"is equipped to suit the needs of her infant
child"; she has maintained employment for three months;
and she has the financial capacity to care for the child. We
fully acknowledge the mother has been able to create a
physical environment that would be appropriate for a child,
and we commend the mother for obtaining employment. However,
we find the evidence to be clear and convincing that the
mother is unable to meet the basic needs and provide
appropriate care for the child. The mother lives alone in her
new apartment. If the child had been returned to the
mother's care at the time of the termination hearing, it
would have been only the two of them living in the ...