IN THE INTEREST OF L.M., D.M., and M.M., Minor Children, J.E., Mother of L.M. and D.M., Appellant, J.M., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Lee (North) County, Ty
Rogers, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to two
children; a father appeals the termination of his rights to
three children. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.
M. Stuekerjuergen of Stuekerjuergen Law Firm, PLC, West
Point, for appellant mother.
William Monroe, Burlington, for appellant father.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Van Winkle, Burlington, guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.
juvenile court terminated the parental relationships of three
children: seven-year-old M.M., four-year-old L.M., and
two-year-old D.M. In separate appeals, Jennifer, the mother
of L.M. and D.M., and James, the father of all three
children, seek to reverse the termination
order. Jennifer argues (1) the State failed to
offer clear and convincing evidence the younger children
could not be presently returned to her care; (2) termination
was not in the children's best interests; and (3)
termination will be detrimental to the children because of
their close relationship with her. Both parents contend the
court did not hold the State to the requirement of making
reasonable efforts toward reunification.
independently reviewing the record, we reach the same
conclusion as the juvenile court. Jennifer and James have
allowed their children to become mired in "a predictable
cycle of removal, return, deterioration of parental behavior,
and subsequent removal of the children." The cycle has
been hard on the children, causing them to "struggle
behaviorally" and leaving them with the
"uncertainty of not knowing" what will happen in
their lives. The State proved grounds for termination and
made reasonable efforts to reunify the family. See
Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f), (h) (2018). Despite a strong
bond with their biological parents, the children will benefit
from breaking out of the cycle of removal and moving toward
adoption. See Iowa Code § 232.116(2), (3)(c).
Accordingly, we affirm the termination order.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
family drew the attention of the Iowa Department of Human
Services (DHS) as far back as December 2014 because Jennifer
and James were using methamphetamine while caring for M.M.
and L.M. The DHS offered the family voluntary services. But
continued concerns of substance abuse prompted the juvenile
court to adjudicate M.M. and L.M. as children in need of
assistance (CINA) in September 2015 and to approve their
removal from parental care in December 2015. D.M. was born in
March 2016. The juvenile court ordered M.M. and L.M. to
remain as CINA, but returned them to their parents' care
in November 2016.
return was short-lived. The strained relationship between
Jennifer and James led them to voluntarily send the children
back to the home of foster parents Paul and Candice. In
January 2017, Jennifer and the children moved in with her
mother. Continued concern about the parents' drug use
prompted another removal of the children in February 2017.
All three children have stayed with foster parents Paul and
Candice since that time.
spring of 2017, both parents were incarcerated-Jennifer at
the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville
for drug charges and James at the Mount Pleasant Correctional
Facility for driving while barred. James was released to a
halfway house in Burlington in late October 2017. While
there, James obtained employment and resumed visitation with
the children. Jennifer also moved to a half-way house in
Ottumwa in December 2017, where she started participating in
substance-abuse treatment. In its November 2017 permanency
order, the juvenile court decided termination was not in the
children's best interests and agreed to continued
placement of the children for an additional six months to
allow the parents time to comply with services after their
release from prison. The court set review for April 2018.
2018, the juvenile court issued a "Permanency Planning
Hearing Order." The order recounted testimony that the
children were very bonded to their foster parents but also
expressed love for Jennifer and James. The court expressed
concern for the ability of both Jennifer and James to show
sustained periods of testing negative for controlled
substances. In addition, the court shared the DHS expectation
that Jennifer and James engage in "relationship
counseling" given the volatile history of their