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In re T.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 20, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF T.S., Minor Child, M.D., Intervenor, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cass County, Amy L. Zacharias, District Associate Judge.

         A paternal grandmother appeals the denial of her motion to intervene following termination-of-parent-rights proceedings.

          Amanda Heims, Council Bluffs, for appellant intervenor.

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

          Karen L. Mailander of Mailander Law Office, Anita, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE

         A grandmother, Malasondra, appeals the juvenile court's denial of her motion to intervene following termination of her son Shawn's parental rights. She believes she can provide a safe, permanent home for her granddaughter, T.S. But the juvenile court decided intervention was not in the child's best interests because Malasondra and her husband "were not a suitable long-term placement option" for T.S. Finding no error in the juvenile court's analysis, we affirm.[1]

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         T.S. is a fifth grader. Her biological parents are Shawn and Karissa.[2] T.S. lived with Shawn until fall 2016 when he used crack cocaine while caring for her. Later that year, Shawn was convicted in Minnesota of two counts of sexually abusing his cognitively-delayed sister-starting when she was thirteen years old. He received an indeterminate fifteen-year prison sentence. As a result of those events, the Iowa juvenile court terminated his parental rights to T.S. in May 2018.

         Shawn's mother, Malasondra, successfully petitioned to intervene in the CINA proceedings. She asked the court to place T.S. with her and her husband, Jeffrey, in their Minnesota home. In response, the juvenile court ordered a home study under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). A social worker from the Minnesota Department of Human Services conducted the study and denied approval for placement, citing serious concerns about Malasondra's ability to protect T.S. from possible harm.

         The social worker was troubled by Malasondra's minimization of Shawn's sexual abuse. Shawn pleaded guilty to repeatedly sexually abusing his sister, G.S., over a period of several years while they both lived at home with Malasondra. But Malasondra characterized the sex acts between Shawn and G.S. as consensual; disbelieved G.S. when she sought help; and blamed G.S. for ruining Shawn's life. In addition, G.S. reported her stepfather, Jeffrey, physically abused her as a young child when he was intoxicated. Malasondra denied these claims. In response to the sexual assault investigation, Malasondra told police officers G.S. made up stories. Malasondra told the social worker Shawn went to jail for drug use-not as a result of his sexual abuse convictions. The grandmother also admitted she knew Shawn was abusing drugs while caring for T.S. but she was not concerned about his parenting under the influence because other family members always stepped in to take care of her.

         The social worker concluded:

Malasondra's greater concern about her son, Shawn, the perpetrator of sexual abuse and the minimization of any impact or suffering by his victim, [G.S.], raises concerns. Her acknowledgment of a component of the abuse pattern in her home and the victim's report of attempting to tell her at the time also raise questions about her willingness to believe and protect a victim if she favors the perpetrator. These elements raise serious issues regarding the safety and empathy available to a child in relative placement. Even Malasondra's view that [T.S.'s] father was a good parent while he used drugs ...

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