IN THE INTEREST OF P.L., Minor Child, P.L., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Barbara H.
Liesveld, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.
Patricia J. Meier of Nidey Erdahl Fisher Pilkington &
Meier, PLC, Cedar Rapids, for appellant mother.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Trachta of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, attorney
and guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.
POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE.
mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her
child, P.L., who was born in 2011. The juvenile court
terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa
Code section 232.116(1)(f) (2018). The mother challenges only
whether the State fulfilled its mandate to make reasonable
efforts to reunify the mother and child. This argument
implicates the juvenile court's application of subsection
232.116(1)(f)(4)-that P.L. could not be returned to the
mother's care at the time of the termination hearing.
See In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d 489, 493 (Iowa 2000)
("[T]he reasonable efforts requirement is not viewed as
a strict substantive requirement of termination. Instead . .
. [t]he State must show reasonable efforts as a part of its
ultimate proof the child cannot be safely returned to the
care of a parent."). We generally review termination
decisions de novo. In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40
begin by determining whether the mother's claim is
preserved for our review. See Weltzin v. Nail, 618
N.W.2d 293, 296 (Iowa 2000) ("While de novo review
allows the appellate court to consider the facts and issue in
their entirety, the court can only review issues properly
preserved."); see also In re K.C., 660 N.W.2d
29, 38 (Iowa 2003) (recognizing that "[e]ven issues
implicating constitutional rights must be" properly
preserved before the appellate court may rule on the merits).
The State urges us to find it is not preserved.
order to preserve for our review the question of whether
reasonable efforts were made, "the [m]other had the
obligation to demand other, different or additional services
prior to the termination hearing." In re S.R.,
600 N.W.2d 63, 65 (Iowa 1990). Here, the first time the
mother raised the issue of reasonable efforts was the day
before the termination trial, when she filed what she titled
an "application for reasonable services and motion to
continue." She contends that application is sufficient
to preserve the issue. Insofar as the mother requested new or
different services one day before the termination hearing, we
find this failed to preserve for our review the issue of
reasonable efforts. Although the mother technically informed
the court before the termination hearing, her attempt to get
in under the wire is insufficient. Our error-preservation
rules "are not designed to be hypertechnical."
Griffin Pipe Prod. Co., Inc. v. Bd. of Review, 789
N.W.2d 769, 772 (Iowa 2010). The purpose of requiring a
parent to notify the court about a perceived issue with
services before a termination hearing is because of "the
importance for a parent to object to services early in the
process so appropriate changes can be made."
C.B., 611 N.W.2d at 493-94. One day is not enough to
make the changes. See In re B.K., 500 N.W.2d 54, 57
(Iowa 1993) ("Suggestions are due far earlier in the
process."); In re J.L.W., 570 N.W.2d 778, 781
(Iowa Ct. App. 1997) ("When the statutory time standards
found in section 232.116 are approaching, and a parent has
made only minimal progress, the child deserves to have the
time standards followed by having termination of parental
rights pursued."), overruled on other grounds by
P.L., 778 N.W.2d at 39. Moreover, we do not want to
encourage last-minute requests for services to become a
tactic for delay. See In re D.B., No. 99-1100, 2000
WL 210451, at *6 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2000) (noting that a
motion to substitute counsel "made on the eve of, or
during trial" cannot be allowed to become a tactic for
the mother's request for new services was a request to
continue the termination hearing for six months in order to
give her time to participate in those services. Although the
mother contends the extension of time falls within reasonable
services, we believe it is more appropriately considered as a
request to delay permanency. See Iowa Code §
232.104(2)(b) (allowing the court to delay permanency for six
months if the court finds the need for removal of the child
from the parent's care will no longer exist at the end of
the extension). And while she asserts the court made a
procedural error by denying this request before it heard the
evidence at the termination trial, the court still had the
option to delay permanency after the close of evidence.
Id. §§ 232.103, .104.
the juvenile court, we cannot say P.L. could be returned to
her mother's care at the end of an additional period for
reunification. The mother loves P.L. and has engaged in the
services DHS requested in order to strengthen the
parent-child bond and improve her parenting skills. We
acknowledge that the services the mother asks for more time
to participate in are also aimed at further strengthening the
mother's and P.L.'s relationship. But the
professionals involved with the family expressed doubts the
additional time and services would rectify the strained
relationship between P.L. and the mother, as they had already
engaged in thirty-three weeks of parent-child interaction
therapy (PCIT), which in its first phase was meant to work on
"the child getting the bond and creating that
relationship with their parent." Most families progress
to the second phase in six to twelve weeks, whereas P.L. and
the mother worked on the first phase for thirty-three weeks
before the therapist concluded they were at maximum benefit
and ended the PCIT. Even after they received the benefit of
PCIT, P.L. described visits with her mother as "too
long" and "too much" and sometimes could not
be convinced to go. Additionally, the service provider,
social worker, and the clinical psychologist who evaluated
the mother and child all indicated there is not a strong bond
between the mother and P.L., and it was noted that P.L. has
shown a stronger attachment to her foster families than she
does to her mother. The psychologist expressed a fear P.L.
would run away from home if she was forced to return to the
mother argues she should be given additional time because she
suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and has
cognitive difficulties as a result. We note that the service
providers, social worker, and therapist testified they were
aware of the mother's need to be given materials in
writing, shown more modeling, and experience repetition in
order to learn and apply new skills. The evidence at trial
was that these steps were taken. Additionally, the social
worker testified that she has had cases where a parent learns
more slowly and has recommended the court order additional
time for reunification. However, she testified she did not
believe additional time was appropriate here because P.L. was
"showing signs of needing permanency" and the
mother was not making even slow progress. Similarly, the
guardian ad litem, when asked by the court to take a position
on continuing the termination trial for six months, resisted
the motion to continue, stating:
[P.L.] is really struggling, and this delay in her having
some decision about permanency is causing her a lot of stress
and anxiety and increasing some of her negative behavior, and
we are in a position where, I think the record and evidence
today will show that visits that have occurred have been
traumatic . . . . This is not a case where we are making slow
progress. Frankly, I don't see progress toward