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In re K.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 19, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF K.S., P.S., and N.J., Minor Children, A.S., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Adair County, Monty Franklin, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights in her three children. AFFIRMED.

          Adam D. Hanson of Hanson Law Office, Winterset, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Julie A. Forsyth of Forsyth Law Office, P.L.L.C., Winterset, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.

          McDONALD, JUDGE.

         A mother, Amanda, appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her children, K.S., P.S., and N.J., pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (f) (2018). In this appeal, she challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting termination of her parental rights. The fathers of the children do not appeal the termination of their respective parental rights.

         This court reviews termination proceedings de novo. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014). The statutory framework authorizing the termination of a parent-child relationship is well established. See In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472-73 (Iowa 2018) (setting forth the statutory framework). The burden is on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence (1) the statutory ground or grounds authorizing the termination of parental rights and (2) termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the children. See In re E.H., No. 17-0615, 2017 WL 2684420, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. June 21, 2017).

         In her first claim of error, Amanda contends there is insufficient evidence supporting the statutory grounds authorizing termination of her parental rights. Where, as here, "the juvenile court terminates parental rights on more than one statutory ground, we may affirm the juvenile court's order on any ground we find supported by the record." In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 774 (Iowa 2012).

         We choose to focus our attention on Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f). Amanda concedes the State proved by clear and convincing evidence the first three elements of section 232.116(1)(f) and limits her to challenge to the fourth element. The fourth element "require[s] clear and convincing evidence the children would be exposed to an appreciable risk of adjudicatory harm if returned to the parent's custody at the time of the termination hearing." E.H., 2017 WL 2684420, at *1.

         On de novo review, we conclude there is clear and convincing evidence supporting termination of Amanda's rights pursuant to section 232.116(1)(f). First, Amanda admitted during the termination hearing the children could not be returned to her care. When asked, "Would you be able to receive the children back into your care today?" Amanda replied, "No." Amanda's admission is supported by other evidence. At the time of the termination hearing, Amanda lived with her federal-parolee paramour, Steve, in a two-bedroom home leased to Steve. Prior to the termination hearing, Amanda refused to sign a release permitting the Iowa Department of Human Services ("IDHS") to contact Steve and conduct a background investigation. Amanda only acquiesced and presented a signed release at the termination hearing, but it was too late for IDHS to perform any investigation. Without the necessary investigation, the children could not be returned to Amanda's care while she resided with Steve.

         Second, Amanda's mental-health conditions preclude her from providing adequate care for her children. Amanda suffers from several mental-health ailments, including: bipolar-type-one disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety. The record reflects these conditions have prevented Amanda from providing adequate care to and supervision of the children. The record reflects Amanda has not resolved these concerns. Amanda's failure to address these concerns over the life of the case militates in favor of terminating her parental rights. See In re J.L., No. 18-0324, 2018 WL 1858382, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Apr. 18, 2018) (considering mother's unresolved mental-health issues as a factor supporting termination of her parental rights); In re A.J., No. 17-1796, 2018 WL 437766, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 10, 2018) (concluding mother's "untreated mental-health conditions pose[d] a risk of harm" warranting termination); In re T.H., No. 17-1558, 2017 WL 6520731, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2017) (concluding mother could not provide adequate supervision and care of her children due to unaddressed mental-health conditions).

         Third, and related to these mental-health concerns, Amanda's inability to regulate her emotions and interact with others impedes her ability to provide adequate care for the children. See In re O.N., No. 17-0918, 2017 WL 3525324, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 16, 2017) (finding mother's inability to regulate her emotions supported determination that her child could not be returned to her care). Amanda repeatedly discussed the court proceedings with the children despite being told not to do so. She encouraged the children to contact the guardian ad litem and state they wanted to return to Amanda's care. She offered to purchase the children pets if they did so. She struggled to manage all three children at the same time during visitation and acted inappropriately in front of the children. For example, during one visit, Amanda forgot the food she planned to bring, became upset, and shouted in front of the children that IDHS had ruined her life and just wanted her to fail. The children then attempted to comfort Amanda and deescalate the situation. Amanda remained upset for the remainder the visit, prompting K.S. to apologize to the supervising family safety, risk, and ...


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