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In re M.K.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 20, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF M.K., Minor Child, J.J., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Romonda D. Belcher, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals an order terminating his parental rights to his two-year-old son.

          Alexandra M. Nelissen, Des Moines, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          ConGarry Williams, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A father, Ja'Maur, challenges the juvenile court's order terminating his parental relationship with his son, M.K., who was born in September 2016. Ja'Maur argues (1) the State did not present clear and convincing proof M.K. could not be safely returned to his care; (2) the State did not make reasonable efforts to reunite the family; and (3) termination was not in M.K.'s best interests because the child would lose "vital connections" with biological relatives.

         After our independent review of the record, [1] we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court-despite the State's reasonable efforts, the record revealed "ongoing concerns about the safety of the child" if returned to the father's custody. See Iowa Code §§ 232.102(12), 232.116(1)(h) (2018). And the evidence supports a finding that termination was in M.K.'s best interests despite the existence of a bond with his father and paternal family. See id. § 232.116(2), (3).

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         When M.K. was seven months old, the State filed a petition alleging he was a child in need of assistance (CINA). The petition alleged M.K.'s mother was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her paramour, Stuart.[2] The juvenile court adjudicated M.K. as a CINA, and the mother consented to the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) removal of M.K. from her custody in May 2017.

         In August 2017, paternity testing showed Ja'Maur was M.K.'s father. In late August, Ja'Maur started weekly supervised visits with M.K. According to DHS records, Ja'Maur was inconsistent in his visitation from September 2017 until February 2018. In October 2017, the DHS reported the existence of allegations of child sexual abuse against Ja'Maur. In 2012, while living in Missouri, Ja'Maur was arrested for sexual contact with a child but pleaded guilty to assault. The juvenile court also considered a child-abuse assessment from the summer of 2017 in which an Iowa child protection worker found Ja'Maur had indecent contact with a twelve-year-old girl he was babysitting. Despite that history, Ja'Maur failed to complete a psychosexual evaluation as requested by the DHS.

         During the CINA case, Ja'Maur did not pursue treatment for his mental-health diagnoses and could not maintain stable housing. Additionally, reports from the Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) worker show Ja'Maur was habitually late to his visits with M.K. that spring, though when he arrived his interactions with his son were warm and appropriate.

         In June 2018, the State filed a petition to terminate parental rights. In August 2018, the juvenile court held a hearing on the petition. The State offered numerous exhibits in support of termination but did not present live testimony. The mother consented to termination of her parental rights. Ja'Maur ...


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