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In re P.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF P.J. and D.J., Minor Children, P.J., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Gary P. Strausser, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights in two children.

          AFFIRMED. Jeannette Keller of Bowman, DePree & Murphy, West Liberty, for appellant father.

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

          Brian J. Metcalf, Muscatine, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights in his two children, D.J., born in August 2010, and P.J., born in August 2013. He challenges one of the two grounds for termination, argues the State failed to make reasonable efforts to set up in-person visitation between him and the children, contends termination is not in the best interests of the children, and argues the children's placement with relatives should preclude the termination of his parental rights.

         I.

         The children (and four half-siblings who are not part of this proceeding) were removed by court order from the parents' care in December 2016 upon reports that the parents were engaging in substance abuse and that their bedroom contained methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. D.J., P.J., and two siblings were placed with their maternal grandparents. They have remained in that placement without any home trials since removal.

         By his own admission, the father was addicted to prescribed hydrocodone from 2015 to 2017 and began using methamphetamine when he did not have access to hydrocodone. He was diagnosed with amphetamine abuse and cannabis abuse disorder. He was scheduled to be admitted for intensive outpatient treatment for substance abuse but failed to show up for any appointments.

         Upon the parties' stipulation, the children were adjudicated children in need of assistance pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(n) (2017) on February 16, 2017. The children's placement in the care of their maternal grandparents continued. On March 9, a dispositional hearing was held, and on March 15, the court continued the children's placement with their grandparents. The juvenile court noted the father had been arrested twice for possession of drug paraphernalia since the adjudication hearing and arrested for attempted murder following the dispositional hearing.

         The father remained in custody following his arrest. On July 7, he pleaded guilty to willful injury resulting in bodily injury as a habitual offender and was sentenced to a five-year term in prison. This was the father's third incarceration over an almost twenty-year period, all of which the father admitted were related to his substance-abuse issues. While the father was in the county jail and at the classification center, no visits with his children were allowed. The father completed a mental-health evaluation at the classification center. He was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder. He was sent to a correctional facility on August 21, 2017. At the correctional facility, the father was encouraged to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) but was not required to attend substance-abuse programming.

         The juvenile court held a termination-of-parental-rights hearing over the course of two days. The father contested termination of his rights, complaining the State had failed to make reasonable efforts at reunification. He asserted no in-person visits with his children were set up until March 24, 2018, and that visit had to be rescheduled due to severe winter weather. He testified he sent letters and cards to the children. He also testified he telephoned the children regularly but was often unable to reach them. The father argued the children were in a safe relative placement and he should be granted an additional six months because he was sober, was attending AA and NA ...


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