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In re J.D.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.D., J.D., and J.D., Minor Children, K.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Osceola County, David C. Larson, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her three children.

          Scott A. Johnson of Hemphill Law Office, PLC, Spencer, for appellant mother.

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

          Tisha M. Halverson of Klay, Veldhuizen, Bindner, DeJong & Halverson P.L.C., Paullina, for appellee father.

          Shannon Sandy of Sandy Law Firm, Spirit Lake, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          Doyle, Presiding Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children. She challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the grounds for termination and argues the State failed to make reasonable efforts to reunify the family. She requests additional time to prove the children can be returned to her care.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         This appeal concerns three children: J.L.D., who was born in 2009; J.M.D., who was born in 2010; and J.B.D., who was born in 2013. Documented concerns about the children's safety extend as far back as 2012, when the family lived in Minnesota. Specifically, the mother allowed her boyfriend-J.B.D.'s father-to discipline J.L.D., and in October 2012, the boyfriend hit J.L.D. hard enough to cause bruising and cuts. This was not the first time J.L.D was injured by a man the mother was in a relationship with; less than a year earlier, J.L.D. was injured when the mother's ex-fiancé threw J.L.D. into bed. J.L.D. and J.M.D. had also observed incidents of domestic violence between the mother and her then-boyfriend, whose criminal history included convictions for possession of controlled substances, assaults, and criminal sexual conduct. There were concerns about the mother's stability, as she changed addresses thirteen times in five years and the children having at least four different daycare providers in a six-month period. Because of these concerns, a Minnesota court removed J.L.D. and J.M.D. from the mother's care and adjudicated them to be in need of protection or services. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 6(8) (2013) (defining "[c]hild in need of protection or services" as "a child who is in need of protection or services because the child . . . is without proper parental care because of the emotional, mental, or physical disability, or state of immaturity of the child's parent, guardian, or other custodian"). J.L.D and J.M.D. were returned to the mother's care in March 2014 following a trial home placement, [1] and the child-in-need-of-protection-or-services petition was dismissed.

         The mother and children moved to Iowa in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) received allegations that the mother failed to provide the children with medication as prescribed, failed to supervise the children adequately, and drove while intoxicated with one child in the car. It was also alleged that J.B.D.'s father assaulted the mother in front of J.B.D. Although allegations that the mother denied the children critical care were not confirmed, the DHS worker who performed a child protective assessment in May 2016 "determined that there are sufficient health and safety issues with regard to this family" and recommended that J.L.D. be adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA). The worker noted concerns about J.L.D.'s behaviors, especially his physical aggression toward his siblings and other children. The State filed a CINA petition concerning J.L.D. Following an uncontested hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated J.L.D. to be a CINA and ordered J.L.D. to remain in the mother's custody.

         In spite of juvenile court and DHS involvement, concerns about the children's safety persisted. A protective assessment found the mother denied the children critical care in August 2016 by failing to provide proper supervision and allowing a registered sex offender access to the children. The children struggled in school. The mother was not consistent in giving J.L.D. his medications or in following through with the services offered by the DHS. The DHS learned the mother was in a new relationship[2] when the police responded to a call about a domestic disturbance at her residence in October 2016 while the children were present.

         In January 2017, the State petitioned to adjudicate J.M.D. and J.B.D. to be CINA and remove them from the home. The State also moved to modify J.L.D.'s disposition to place him in foster care. Before the hearings on those matters and without notice to the DHS, the mother placed the children with relatives: J.L.D. was placed with his grandfather in Orange City, J.M.D. was placed with his father in Minnesota, and J.B.D. was placed with a great aunt in Iowa Falls (before being moved to the home of the great aunt's daughter). In February 2017, the juvenile court granted the State's petition to adjudicate J.M.D. and J.B.D. to be CINA and modified J.L.D.'s disposition. The court ordered the children to the custody of the DHS, which continued the children in their relative placements.[3] In the months that followed, the mother considered voluntarily terminating her parental rights to her children.

         The mother moved to South Dakota in May 2017. The move placed her farther away from the children. At the request of the DHS, the South Dakota Department of Social Services completed a home study of the mother's residence, which recommended the family follow through on individual and family therapy and that the mother request another home study after she demonstrated consistency and stability for a longer period.

         In July 2017, the mother obtained a psychological evaluation. The evaluator noted that the mother minimizes or denies having difficulties, which prevents her from improving her parenting skills, and she would need to acknowledge her shortcomings in order to provide a safe and stable home for the children. Based on the mother's past choices or limited understanding of her children's needs, the evaluator opined that the mother would likely need two to five years of therapeutic services to regain trust and reestablish relationships with the children. The evaluator also noted that the mother's "current desire for her children to return to her care revolve[s] around having the new support system of her fiancé and the stability this can provide." However, the evaluator cautioned that the support of a spouse would not be enough for the mother to maintain healthy relationships and make healthy choices for herself and her children. "This concept may not be readily accepted by the [mother], and would need therapeutic intervention, as it appears the [mother] has limited insight into how this notion may be influencing her decision making."

         In an October 2017 order, the juvenile court found the mother's compliance with court-ordered services to be lacking. It found the mother had "boycotted" two family team meetings in a six-month period and "been hesitantly and belatedly compliant" in completing a psychological evaluation. With regard to the requirement that the mother participate in individual therapy, the court found that she complied for only a short time before making excuses as to why she was unable to participate. The court also found the mother failed to follow through with the court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and any recommendations made from it because "she does not want to do so and because she does not believe she needs medication management." With regard to visitation with the children, the court noted that although she was offered weekly visits with J.L.D. and J.B.D., she generally "exercises the visits approximately two times each month." The mother had only seen J.M.D. twice since removal, and although the court attributed fault to both the mother and J.M.D.'s father, the court noted that the mother "has not actually made any effort to travel to [the father's town] to exercise any visitation." The court cautioned, "[I]t is ...

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