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In re S.C.-H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 6, 2019

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

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hamilton County, Paul B. Ahlers, District Associate Judge.

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

          Justin T. Deppe of Deppe Law Office, Jewell, for appellant mother.

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

          Douglas Cook, Jewell, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         A mother appeals the juvenile court's termination of her parental rights. She contends the State failed to make reasonable efforts to reunify her with the child and prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. Further, she contends termination is not in the best interests of the child and requests additional time to work toward reunification.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         J.T. is the mother and J.H. is the father of S.C.-H., born in June 2015.[1] The child first came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) one month after birth. During its investigation, DHS found the mother's home unsafe and unsanitary. DHS observed garbage and clutter littered throughout the entire home to the point that doors could not be opened, which created potential fire hazards, and rooms were rendered unusable. Further, the mother suffered from mental-health issues, which were either the cause of or exacerbated her hoarding behaviors. The mother's involvement with the juvenile court system dates back to at least 2010 with her older children. The safety of the home was a concern during those earlier proceedings.

         S.C.-H. was adjudicated in need of assistance (CINA) in October 2015 and remained under the care of the mother with protective supervision by DHS. At a dispositional review hearing in April 2016, the court continued the child's CINA adjudication and placement with the mother under DHS protective supervision. The court noted improvement to the mother's home. However, she had been unable to consistently maintain a safe environment for the child.

         In July, after the mother delivered the child to the father for a visitation, the father noticed bruising on the child's face and ribs and the child had difficulty breathing; the father had the child transported to the hospital. DHS also noted multiple red marks, scratches, and bruising on the child. Medical personnel diagnosed the child with four to five fractured ribs in addition to noting multiple rib fractures in various stages of healing, which did not occur on one single occasion. The father also reported he noticed the child had difficulty breathing when the mother dropped off the child for another visitation two weeks earlier. The child's stepmother noted healing bruises on the child's rib area during that visitation. The child was subsequently diagnosed with pneumonia.

         Ultimately, neither DHS nor the court were able to determine in whose care the child was when the injuries occurred or who specifically caused the injuries, due in part because of a time delay between when the mother dropped off the child to the father and when the child was transported to the hospital. DHS returned founded child-abuse assessments against both parents for denial of critical care and physical abuse. The parents consented to a voluntary removal and placement of the child in foster care. The court subsequently modified the CINA dispositional order to reflect the out-of-home placement. In February 2017, the State petitioned to terminate the mother's parental rights. The court denied the State's petition and continued the child's placement for an additional six months to allow for reunification.

         After removal, the mother's visitation began with fully-supervised visits and progressed to semi-supervised visits. However, the visitation returned to fully supervised after DHS noted safety concerns with the mother's parenting skills. The mother returned the child to daycare and the foster parents with dirty and soaked diapers on multiple occasions. The child also exhibited signs that the diapers were not changed for an extended period of time. The child's foster parents and daycare provider noted the child acted confused and different after visits with the mother, especially those less supervised by DHS. DHS also noted multiple occurrences when the child wandered away from the mother near traffic on the street or in a parking lot due to the mother's lack of attention. Service providers were also required to bring to the mother's attention potentially dangerous situations, such as the child standing or climbing up on chairs, rather than the mother recognizing the danger ...


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