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In re D.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 20, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF D.G. and G.G., Minor Children, L.H., Mother, Appellant, J.G., Father, Appellant.

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

         Parents separately appeal from the termination of their parental rights to two of their children.

          C. Kenneth Whitacre, Glenwood, for appellant mother. Justin R. Wyatt, Glenwood, for appellant father.

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

          Vicki R. Danley, Sidney, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Potterfield, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, JUDGE.

         Parents separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to the youngest two of their five children, born in 2015 and 2017.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The department of human services intervened in 2015, following the birth of the parents' fourth child.[1] The department instituted a safety plan based on concerns of drug use by the mother. The fourth child stayed with relatives for approximately two months, then was formally removed from the parents' care in a separate proceeding. He was ultimately reunited with his parents, and the district court closed the case.

         Less than one year later, the youngest child was born with marijuana in his system. The State filed a petition to have all five children adjudicated in need of assistance.

         On the date of the scheduled adjudicatory hearing, the department drug-tested the parents and found they had methamphetamine in their systems. The district court granted the adjudication petition and ordered the children removed from parental care. The department placed the older three children with their maternal grandmother. The youngest two children, who are the subject of this appeal, ended up with their maternal great-aunt.

         The parents continued to test positive for methamphetamine and marijuana for several months, but, in time, their drug use declined. Beginning four months before the termination hearing, they tested negative for methamphetamine. Although the father tested positive for marijuana after that date, a hair test administered in the month preceding the termination hearing tested negative for all substances, and the father testified he stopped using marijuana. The mother equivocated on whether she curtailed use of the drug. But the department caseworker agreed the department typically does not remove children for marijuana use by the parents. Both parents attended substance-abuse counseling and participated in other services designed to address their substance abuse. They also participated in several weekly visits with their children.

         Ultimately, the State recommended against termination of parental rights to the older three children but petitioned to terminate parental rights to the youngest two children. Following a two-day termination hearing, the district court granted the termination petition pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (h) (allowing the court to terminate parental rights where there is an absence of significant and ...


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