IN THE INTEREST OF L.C., Minor Child, E.H., Mother, Appellant, K.C., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Lynn Poschner,
District Associate Judge.
mother and father appeal the termination of their parental
rights with regards to their child. AFFIRMED ON BOTH
Webber of Carr Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant
Christopher R. Kemp of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Garbis Nolan of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad
litem for minor child.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.
mother and father separately appeal the termination of their
parental rights. The parents both argue the State has not
established the grounds for termination by clear and
convincing evidence, termination is not in the best interests
of the child, and the district court should have granted an
extension of time.
was born premature at thirty-three weeks in September 2017
with complicated health issues. L.C. spent her first eight
weeks of life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and
was diagnosed with laryngomalacia, bilateral hydronephrosis,
and bilateral choanal stenosis. Because of these diagnoses,
she could not be fed orally and a gastrostomy tube was
surgically inserted into her stomach. The Iowa Department of
Human Services (DHS) became involved on October 25 due to
concerns of the parents' inability to adequately address
L.C.'s serious medical needs.
State petitioned for, and the district court ordered,
temporary removal on October 30. On December 4, L.C. was
adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA). After many
months of unsuccessful attempts to teach the parents how to
care for their child, the State filed a petition to terminate
parental rights for L.C. on June 21, 2018. On October 1, the
district court found the State proved by clear and convincing
evidence the grounds for termination under Iowa Code section
232.116(1)(h) (2018). The mother and father separately
review termination-of-parental-rights proceedings de novo.
In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016).
"We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings
of fact, but we do give them weight . . . ." In re
D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010). "We will
uphold an order terminating parental rights if there is clear
and convincing evidence of grounds for termination under Iowa
Code section 232.116." Id.; accord
Iowa Code § 232.117(3) ("If the court concludes
that facts sufficient to sustain the petition have been
established by clear and convincing evidence, the court may
order parental rights terminated."). "'Clear
and convincing evidence' means there are no serious or
substantial doubts as to the correctness [of] conclusions of
law drawn from the evidence." In re C.B., 611
N.W.2d 489, 492 (Iowa 2000).
the mother and father separately argue the State did not
prove by clear and convincing evidence that their parental
rights should be terminated under Iowa Code section
232.116(1)(h). Both parents concede the State established the
first three elements but challenge the State's
establishment of the fourth requirement, which provides the
child could not be returned to the parents' custody
"at the present time." The mother asserts she had
stable housing and "she ha[d] been compliant with
services to the best of her ability" at the time of the
termination hearing. The father asserts he had stable
housing, graduated high school, had a job interview, and had
taken steps to learn about L.C.'s serious medical needs
at the time of the termination hearing. In the termination
order, the district court stated the parents "have been
provided with education about how to care for [L.C.] over the
past year but they have not shown the capacity to learn these
skills; even with more time and education."
L.C.'s birth, hospital staff attempted to teach the
parents how to care for L.C. during her eight-week stay in
the NICU. Their attempts were met with little success. For
the next nine months, the parents continued to receive
education on and assistance with providing adequate care to
L.C. In a June 8, 2018 report to the court, DHS noted, in
regards to feeding and providing other care, the parents
"continue to demonstrate that they are unable to do
these tasks on their own without guidance or
assistance." An August 28 report noted the same lack of
progress. Unfortunately, due to L.C.'s serious medical
needs, the child requires more than just attempts and
willingness to care for her needs. Both parents have failed
to learn how to safely care for the child without risk of