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In re L.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 3, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF L.M., Minor Child, CM., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clay County, Charles Borth, Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child.

          Michael H. Johnson, Spirit Lake, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Shawna L. Ditsworth, Spirit Lake, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., Tabor, J., and Danilson, S.J. [*]

          DANILSON, SENIOR JUDGE.

         A father appeals[1] the termination of his parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2018). Finding no reason to disagree with the juvenile court's findings and conclusions, we affirm.

         The child, L.M., was born in April 2015 to the never-married father and mother. The child came to the attention of the department of human services (DHS) and was removed from the mother's care in March 2016 due to physical abuse.[2] A child-abuse assessment was founded as to an "unknown perpetrator" because during the six days when the injuries to the child had occurred, the child had been in the care of no less than seven persons. After a safety plan was put in place but was not followed, the child was removed from the father's care on August 5, 2016.[3] That removal was continued following uncontested child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) adjudication and disposition hearings.

         As noted by the social worker involved with the family, concerns relating to the father included instability "in his life," his mental health, employment, and housing, and poor judgment in social relationships. The juvenile court observed the father experienced "general chaos in daily living expectations." The father has been involved with DHS and services with the child since 2016 and continues to display an inability to care for himself or the child on any long-term basis without assistance.

         The juvenile court succinctly summarized its conclusions:

[The child] cannot be returned to [the father] without appreciable risk of adjudicatory harm. [He] has discontinued mental health therapy, after only marginal participation, in part because he does not believe it is beneficial. This is concerning to the court considering [the father]'s history of suicidal ideation and previous homicidal statements regarding a co-worker (he had falsely claimed to have killed a co-worker in a fight). He has discontinued [Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)] due to alleged conflicts with his employment. [He] has not had a single overnight visit with [the child] since she was removed from his custody on August 5, 2016. This is well over two years ago. The court recognizes that [the father] has made significant improvements in his personal life. He did, however, start at near rock bottom. The court also believes that he could never have made these improvements without the support of Joe and Karen [V[4] He has had to learn the most basic living skills from them just to take care of himself.

         On appeal, the father asserts the State failed to make reasonable efforts to reunify him and the child, the statutory grounds have not been shown, and termination of parental rights is not in the child's best interests. The child's guardian ad litem has joined in the State's brief and recommends affirming the termination of the father's parental rights.

         We review termination of parental rights proceedings de novo. In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010). We give weight to the court's findings, especially when considering the credibility of witnesses, ...


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