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In re I.R.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 17, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF I.R., Minor Child, K.G., Mother, Appellant, B.Y., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E. Seymour, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father separately challenge the termination of their parental rights to their child.

          Kelsey Knight of Carr Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Meegan M. Keller, Altoona, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          John Jellineck of Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         K.G. and B.Y. are the parents of I.R., born in November 2016. At the time of the child's birth, M.R. was believed to be the father of I.R. The child came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in August 2017 after the child was brought to the hospital with significant head and arm bruising. The child was in M.R.'s care, and he claimed the child accidentally fell when he was in a different room. M.R. told DHS that after he dropped the mother off at school, he had returned to his home with the child. He left the child sleeping while strapped into a car seat on the floor of the living room while he went to use the restroom. After about five minutes, he noticed the child crawling toward him. He claimed the child, who was nine months old at that time, was able to undo the straps and leave the car seat without assistance. He then took the child back into the living room and returned to the restroom when he heard a loud thump. He told DHS that when he went to investigate, he found the child face down by a plant stand near the front door of the residence. Sometime later, when he was changing the child's diaper, he noticed the child was favoring one arm and there was bruising on the child's face. M.R. contacted the mother to report what had happened and, after the mother returned from school, they sought medical assistance.

         Hospital staff did not find M.R.'s explanation consistent with the child's injuries and called DHS to investigate. After a preliminary investigation, DHS recommended the child be allowed to stay with the mother at her home. It was determined M.R. would not be allowed to care for the child until DHS concluded its final investigation. Initially, the mother and M.R. cooperated with DHS. However, as the safety planning progressed, both became uncooperative. When DHS and the mother attempted to leave the hospital with the child, M.R. and M.R.'s father became involved and refused to allow them to leave with the child. This included grabbing the child's carrier and refusing to let go. The mother made no effort to stop M.R. and M.R.'s father. Instead, she argued they had a right to have the child. The situation escalated to the point that hospital security was called and, eventually, the police. The police ultimately conducted an emergency removal.

         The following day, the State sought and the court granted the removal of the child from the mother's and M.R.'s care given the allegation of physical abuse against M.R., the mother's denial of the abuse, and her inability to demonstrate that she could keep the child safe in her care. The court transferred temporary custody of the child to DHS for foster-care placement and DHS provided supervised visitation. The child has remained in foster care since her removal. In September, DHS finished its investigation and returned a founded child-abuse assessment against M.R. for physical abuse. The court adjudicated the child in need of assistance (CINA) in October, and the child remained in DHS custody.

         In February 2018, paternity testing ruled M.R. out as the child's biological father. M.R. stated he wished to remain in the child's life but stopped attending visitations within a month and stopped engaging in services. In March, the mother reported the relationship with M.R. was over. However in April, M.R. was arrested while in the mother's car. M.R. was in the possession of drugs at that time. Testing confirmed B.Y. to be the child's biological father. The father was incarcerated at that time on pending criminal charges. He eventually pled guilty to identity theft, malicious prosecution, and forgery. The father was sentenced to five years in prison and remained incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing. He is not expected to be released until 2020.

         During the permanency hearing, the court noted the mother's progress in obtaining housing and employment in addition to starting to take responsibility for her failure to believe M.R. physically abused the child. The court was informed that on multiple occasions the mother allowed the father to visit with the child through video streaming without DHS authorization or supervision. These calls occurred during the mother's visits supervised by family members and not by professional supervisors. The court found these interactions "did not place the child at risk for harm but called into question Mother's reported progress regarding increased protective capacity." The court also found ...

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