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In re D.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF D.S., Minor Child, S.S., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Joseph Seidlin, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the juvenile court decision terminating his parental rights.

          Robert Stone of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Kayla Stratton of Juvenile Public Defender Office, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         A father appeals the juvenile court decision terminating his parental rights. We find there is clear and convincing evidence in the record to support termination and the State engaged in reasonable efforts to reunite the father with the child. We also find termination is in the child's best interest. We affirm the juvenile court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         S.S., father, and A.C., mother, are the parents of D.S., born in 2016. The child was removed from the parents' care on August 15, 2017, due to the mother's drug use. The child was placed with the maternal grandmother. The father, who is sixty-five years of age, has a lengthy history spanning twenty years of criminal conduct. He was incarcerated at the time of the child's birth and remained incarcerated throughout the juvenile court proceedings. He had one video visit when the child was an infant.

         On October 10, at fifteen months of age, the child was adjudicated to be in need of assistance under Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2) and (n) (2017). In the dispositional order, filed on December 7, the juvenile court ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) to evaluate the appropriateness of visits between the father and the child. DHS reported it would require a trip of two and one-half hours each way for the child to visit the father in prison, or five hours in total. Also, the child's therapist recommended against visits. DHS stated, "At this time, due to the lack of relationship, long car drive for a very young child and the therapist recommendation of not having visits, and not being eligible for parole for two years, the Department is not recommending visits at this time." DHS sent a picture of the child to the father.

         Shortly before a permanency hearing held on July 5, 2018, the father was moved to a different facility, which was a forty-five minute trip each way from where the child was residing, or ninety minutes in total. In the permanency order, the juvenile court stated visits would be within the discretion of DHS. The order also directed the county attorney to institute termination proceedings due to the lack of progress by the parents.[1]

         On July 25, the State filed a petition seeking to terminate the parents' rights. At the termination hearing held on September 20, two months after the permanency hearing, the father testified his discharge date from prison was projected to be in 2045, but he could be released on parole as early as March 2019. He stated there were three or four previous times when his parole had been revoked and other times his probation was revoked. The father stated when he was released from prison he hoped to enter an inpatient substance-abuse treatment program. He admitted the child could not be returned to his care at that time due to his incarceration and indicated it would be a substantial time before he would be in a position to care for the child.

         The juvenile court terminated the father's parental rights under section 232.116(1)(h) (2018).[2] The court determined the State made reasonable efforts to reunite the father with the child, finding DHS reasonably concluded "visits between [D.S.] and [S.S.] should not happen while [S.S.] remained in prison." The court also found termination of the parents' rights is in the child's best interest and no exceptions from section 232.116(3) applied in the case. The father appeals the juvenile court's order.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our review of termination-of-parental-rights cases is de novo. In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 773 (Iowa 2012). "There must be clear and convincing evidence of the grounds for termination of parental rights." In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). Where there is clear and convincing evidence, there are "no serious or substantial doubts as to the correctness or conclusions of law drawn from the evidence." In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010) (citation omitted). The paramount concern in termination proceedings is the best interest of the child. In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793');">723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006).

         III. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         The father claims the State did not present sufficient evidence to justify termination of his parental rights. He claims there was not clear and convincing evidence the child could not be safely returned to his care because the State did not engage in reasonable efforts to reunite him with his ...


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