IN THE INTEREST OF R.P., C.L., and B.T., Minor Children, R.P., Father of R.P., Appellant, T.L., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt,
District Associate Judge.
separately appeal juvenile court rulings in a
M. Northfield, Urbandale, for appellant father. Jesse A.
Macro Jr. of Macro & Kozlowski, LLP, West Des Moines, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Michael Sorci of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad
litem for minor children.
Considered by Tabor, P.J., Bower, J., and Scott, S.J.
separately appeal juvenile court rulings in a
termination-of-parental-rights proceeding. Both parents
challenge the termination of their parental rights to a child
they share, R.P., born in 2017. The mother additionally
appeals the termination of her parental rights to another of
her children, C.L., born in 2011. The mother also contests the
juvenile court's denial of her motion regarding
reasonable efforts as to R.P., C.L., and a third child, B.T.,
born in 2012.The father argues because R.P. was never
"removed" from his care, the evidence is
insufficient to support the termination of his parental
rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2018). The
mother also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting the statutory grounds for termination of her
parental rights. Both parents argue termination of their
parental rights is not in the children's best interests.
Finally, the mother argues the State failed to make
reasonable efforts in relation to drug testing.
Background Facts and Proceedings
children came to the attention of the Iowa Department of
Human Services (DHS) in October 2016 upon concern for
domestic violence between the mother and father in the
children's presence as well as the mother's substance
abuse, mental health, and homelessness. The children were
formally removed from the mother's care in March 2017.
The father was incarcerated at this time. The children were
adjudicated to be in need of assistance in April.
mother has an extensive history of alcohol and substance
abuse. Although we acknowledge the mother has made
significant strides in some areas and is able to
appropriately parent the children when she is not under the
influence, the mother continued to test positive for
methamphetamine throughout the life of the case. The mother
continues to deny using drugs and refuses to acknowledge it
is a problem. The mother also suffers from a number of
underlying mental-health issues which negatively affect her
ability to appropriately parent the children. The father also
has an extensive history of substance abuse spanning more
than thirty years. The father was in and out of jail
throughout these proceedings and, at the time of the
termination hearing, was serving a term of imprisonment with
an expected release date in 2021. However, the father
testified he was being considered for release on
"special parole" about a month after the
termination hearing. The father has not meaningfully
participated in services, even during periods he was not in
jail. The father testified he has completed multiple classes
in prison relative to his fitness as a parent. R.P. has spent
less than ten hours with his father since his birth in
February 2017. The evidence clearly and convincingly
establishes there is no bond between R.P. and his father.
State ultimately petitioned for termination of parental
rights. A hearing was held in August 2018. In October, the
juvenile court entered an interim ruling finding the State
met its burden for termination of both parents' rights
and termination is in the children's best
interests. The court ordered an additional hearing be
held to consider the potential application of the statutory
exceptions to termination contained in Iowa Code section
232.116(3). In November, following said hearing, the court
declined to apply a statutory exception to termination as to
C.L. and R.P. The court placed those children in DHS custody
for relative adoption. However, the juvenile court declined
to terminate the mother's rights to B.T., citing the
statutory exception to termination contained in Iowa Code
section 232.116(3)(a), which permits the court to forego
termination if a relative has legal custody of the child. As
noted, both parents appeal.
Standard of Review
review of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings is de
novo. In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472 (Iowa 2018).
"We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings
of fact, but we do give them weight, especially in assessing
the credibility of witnesses." Id. (quoting
In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014)). Our