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In re of D.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 20, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF D.G., Minor Child, C.B., Mother, Appellant, B.A., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jackson County, Phillip J. Tabor, District Associate Judge.

          Stuart G. Hoover of Blair & Fitzsimmons, P.C., Dubuque, for appellant mother. Joshua J. Reicks of Schoenthaler, Bartelt, Kahler & Reicks, Maquoketa, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

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

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to their child. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

         William Lansing, Dubuque, guardian ad litem for minor child. .

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to their child, born in 2014. The mother argues termination of her rights is not in the child's best interests and the statutory exception to termination contained in Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(a) (2018) should be applied or a guardianship should be established with a maternal great-aunt. The father challenges the sufficiency of the evidence concerning the statutory ground for termination cited by the juvenile court, echoes the mother's claims concerning the statutory exception to termination and establishment of a guardianship, and argues he should have been granted an additional six months to work toward reunification.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The parents and child came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in December 2016 as a result of the parents' substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence. The mother, twenty-six years of age at the time of the termination hearing, has a history of methamphetamine use spanning roughly ten years. She is the mother to an older child not involved in these proceedings who is under the care and guardianship of a relative. The father, just under forty-five years of age at the time of the termination hearing, has a significant history of drug and alcohol abuse. He began consuming alcohol at the age of twelve, marijuana at the age of thirteen, and "about anything" around the time he turned eighteen. The father has five other children; his parental rights have been terminated as to other children.[1]

         After the initiation of DHS involvement, the parents refused to submit to drug testing or allow the child to be subjected to the same. The parents initially declined to participate in voluntary services. After a child-in-need-of-assistance petition was filed, they agreed to a safety plan that would allow the child to be tested for drugs. However, the parents evaded testing of the child. When a test was finally administered, the child tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamines, and marijuana. The child was removed from the parents' care in March 2017 and placed with his maternal great-aunt.

         Through September 2018, at which time the parents were still only allowed fully-supervised visitation, the parents were generally non-compliant with drug-testing requests from DHS. Domestic violence continued to be an issue, with the mother continuously associating with an on-again, off-again boyfriend-who has substance-abuse issues of his own and also refuses to submit to drug testing- with several incidents of domestic violence resulting from the relationship. The boyfriend was arrested in relation to a domestic-violence incident with the mother roughly a month before the termination hearing in October 2018. The mother testified that as a result of this incident, she is no longer focused on having a relationship with this man. However, she did request that the no-contact order in relation to the incident be lifted. Neither parent meaningfully utilized domestic-violence services throughout the life of the case. The mother also failed to meaningfully participate in recommended mental-health services.

         As to drug testing, the parents generally declined testing facilitated by DHS. Instead, the parents would submit to testing through Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC), where they both underwent substance-abuse treatment for much of the case, but concerns for the parents' continued substance abuse lingered throughout the case in light of the parents' refusal to submit to DHS-facilitated drug testing and the fact that ASAC allowed for unmonitored drug testing. Correspondence from an ASAC representative admitted into evidence indicates ASAC drug-test results are not something the court system should rely on in child-welfare cases, as the facility does "not follow a chain of command with the urine sample" and many of the tests are unmonitored.

         The mother tested negative for drugs in early September 2018, but, despite being involved in substance-abuse treatment for some time, tested positive for methamphetamine later the same month. The mother testified this was her only drug use since February 2018. The juvenile court found this assertion to be not credible. The mother also failed to appear for two subsequently scheduled hair-stat tests in October. The father admitted to relapsing on methamphetamine shortly before the termination hearing in October.

         The mother was generally consistent in attending visits with the child throughout the life of the case and was generally able to demonstrate her ability to parent the child during those visits. The father was generally inconsistent in attending visits, and he verbalized multiple times that the visits ...


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