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In re J.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 20, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.C. and M.C., Minor Children, J.S.-C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas J. Straka, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals the order terminating her parental relationship with her two sons.

          MaryBeth A. Fleming of MaryBeth Fleming Law Office, P.C., Dubuque, for appellant mother.

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

          Kristy L. Hefel, Dubuque, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Jameela, challenges the juvenile court's order terminating her parental relationship with her sons, seven-year-old J.C. and ten-year-old M.C. Jameela contends the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to make reasonable efforts to reunite her with J.C. and M.C. The juvenile court found "significant services were offered to mother, but she refused to participate in them and then chose to move to a different state rendering it impossible for the [DHS] to provide any meaningful services." After reviewing the record, [1] we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The DHS first became involved with the family in February of 2017 after receiving a report of suspected physical abuse by Jameela. The DHS investigated but ultimately did not confirm the report. The following month, the DHS received a second report of abuse, which an investigation confirmed. In April, the DHS received a third report alleging Jameela left J.C. and M.C. in her car unattended while she worked her shift at a Dubuque home-improvement store. Police officers found the children in the car, and a child-abuse assessment found a denial of critical care. Jameela initially agreed to participate in services through the DHS. But when the DHS tried to form an action plan, Jameela refused to sign releases or provide necessary information.

          In May, Jameela stopped taking the boys to school, indicating she intended to homeschool them. The DHS grew increasingly concerned about the boys' safety when workers were unable to locate the family and Jameela refused to disclose their whereabouts. So the DHS sought a temporary removal order that same month. In late May, the DHS finally located J.C. and M.C. after Jameela took them to the Indiana Department of Children Services. Iowa DHS caseworkers traveled to Indiana, retrieved the boys, and placed them in foster care under the juvenile court's May temporary removal order.

         In July 2017, after a hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated the children in need of assistance (CINA). At the July hearing, Jameela explained her evasive behavior and refusal to disclose information for coordination of services was motivated by her fear her abusive ex-husband would locate the family. But Jameela also told the juvenile court she no longer feared her ex-husband, and the DHS caseworker testified Jameela had recently been in contact with him. The juvenile court ordered continued foster-care placement, noting the obstacles Jameela's lack of cooperation placed in the way of the DHS coordinating services to address concerns for the children's safety.

         In the following months, DHS and Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) workers offered Jameela phone calls and weekly face-to-face visits with J.C. and M.C., but Jameela's attendance was sporadic. J.C. and M.C. told caseworkers they did not want to see or speak to Jameela because they were afraid. But caseworkers alleviated their fears by crafting a safety plan, and J.C. and M.C. participated in visitations when Jameela attended. Court-ordered mental-health evaluations for the boys revealed concerns of extensive abuse at the hands of Jameela. In the fall of 2017, J.C. and M.C. began therapy in Guttenberg, Iowa. The boys progressed in therapy, and Jameela began attending joint sessions with them. But the boys' therapist recommended against joint counseling with their mother when the boys began to regress as a result of Jameela's participation. By the January 2018 review hearing, the Guttenberg therapist terminated the counseling relationship because Jameela repeatedly showed up at the therapist's office unannounced, and the therapist felt she could not ensure the boys' safety should the relationship continue.

         The juvenile court's January 2018 order following the review hearing again set the permanency goal as reunification. To facilitate this goal, the court ordered continued FSRP services and therapy for J.C. and M.C. The court also asked Jameela to consistently schedule and attend visits, comply with therapy, follow the recommendations of the mental-health evaluation she submitted earlier that month, and again ...

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