IN THE INTEREST OF J.W., K.W., and G.J., Minor Children, K.W., Mother, Appellant, G.J., Father of G.J., Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Jason A.
Burns, District Associate Judge.
separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to
their child, and the mother additionally appeals the
termination of her parental rights to two of her other
Strain Linder of Bray & Klockau, P.L.C., Iowa City, for
R. Ramsey-Kacena, Cedar Rapids, for appellant father of G.J.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anna T. Stoeffler, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Anthony Haughton of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids,
guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Tabor, J., and Scott, S.J.
separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to
their child, G.J., born in 2015, and the mother additionally
appeals the termination of her parental rights to two of her
other children, J.W. and K.W., born in 2009 and
2011. The father argues the Iowa Department of
Human Services (DHS) failed to make reasonable efforts to
facilitate reunification and termination is not in G.J.'s
best interests because a guardianship could have been
established in the paternal grandmother. The mother
challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underlying the
grounds for termination cited by the juvenile court, argues
termination is not in the children's best interests due
to the parent-child bond, and maintains she should have been
granted additional time to work toward reunification.
Background Facts and Proceedings
parents lived in Illinois when the youngest child was born in
2015. A few months later, the mother and children moved to
Iowa. The father stayed in Illinois, living with his mother;
he has never lived on his own and has always relied on his
mother for stable housing. Thereafter, contact between the
father and G.J. was infrequent. The mother has a history of
involvement with child-welfare services in Illinois and
suffers from depression. Both parents have histories of
children came to the attention of DHS in August 2017 upon
information that the mother left the youngest child without
proper supervision for at least ninety minutes. A subsequent
child-abuse assessment was founded for denial of critical
care. The next day, DHS learned the mother intended to turn
herself in on criminal charges and leave the children with
their maternal grandmother. DHS advised the maternal
grandmother was an inappropriate caregiver and the children
should not be left with her. The mother agreed she would not
leave the children with the maternal grandmother. Three days
later, however, DHS learned the mother left the children with
the maternal grandmother. The children were removed from the
mother's care and placed in DHS custody on August 28. The
mother left the children with the maternal grandmother or
allowed them to be around her on a number of occasions
throughout the life of the case despite being told the
maternal grandmother was an inappropriate person to be around
parents appeared at the September 1 removal hearing, during
which all parties stipulated to continued
removal. The court's removal order noted the
"father supports a return of the children to their
mother if possible; but if that is not possible, he requests
the children be placed with him [and] specifically requests
an expedited" home study pursuant to the Interstate
Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). The court
authorized DHS to conduct an ICPC study as to the
father's home but did not expressly order that one be
conducted. The DHS worker testified that the mother was doing
well in progressing with case-plan goals at this time.
Ultimately, a trial home placement of the children with the
mother commenced on September 7.
uncontested adjudication hearing was held on September 27.
The order of adjudication mandated that "upon request of
[the father], . . . [DHS] establish a visit plan between [the
father] and his child. The [DHS] is given discretion to
determine the frequency, duration, and level of supervision
as deemed appropriate." The court also ordered that a
social-history report be completed. Both parents were
provided social-history questionnaires, but only the mother
completed and returned it to DHS. The social-history report
ultimately concluded placement with the mother was the best
current alternative, while placement with any of the
children's respective father's was not an option
because none of them have had any involvement in the
children's lives. A family team meeting was held the day
after the adjudication hearing. A case plan subsequently
filed by DHS noted the father was called several times to be
invited to the meeting but he did not respond. The plan also
noted a visit was set up for the father at his request, but
he did not show up for it.
the trial home placement, there were continuing concerns
regarding the children's attendance at school. There were
also ongoing concerns for the mother's mental health and
who she was allowing to supervise the children. DHS requested
the mother to undergo a mental-health evaluation early on in
the case, but the mother did not do so until shortly before
the termination hearing. Substance abuse also became a
concern. Specifically, in December 2017, the mother was
kicked out of her shelter for testing positive for marijuana.
Thereafter, DHS requested the mother to submit to drug
testing. The mother declined to do so until August 2018, at
which time she tested positive for marijuana. Thereafter, DHS
requested the mother to submit to random drug testing, but
the mother did not report to any of the random tests.
dispositional hearing in December 2017, the State and DHS
requested that the trial home placement with the mother end
and the children be placed in family foster care. The court
declined to terminate the trial home placement but provided
DHS could terminate the placement upon violations of the
safety or permanency plans or for the children's safety.
The court noted in its order that "reasonable efforts
were made" and "[t]here are no requests for
additional services." On January 5, 2018, DHS ended the
trial home placement and placed the children in foster care
after learning the mother did not follow through on
facilitating the youngest child's attendance at
protective daycare and the mother and children became
permanency-review hearing was held in February, which neither
parent attended. The court continued the permanency goal as
reunification with the mother and granted an additional six
months to work toward reunification as to the youngest child.
Counsel for the mother did not request any additional
services, but the father's counsel requested that DHS
"follow up on the ICPC home study regarding his
home." The court ordered DHS to, within ten days,
"follow up on ICPC home study request by . . . father to
ascertain that Iowa has done its part and to expedite the
home study progress." In May, DHS filed an updated case
plan in which it noted the father had not engaged in services
This worker has been trying to obtain an ICPC home study of
his home in Chicago, IL however, this has been unsuccessful.
This worker no longer has a valid phone number for [the
father] and the address he supplied to this worker when the
case began mail is being returned to this worker-return to
sender, attempted-not known- unable to forward.
termination hearing, the DHS worker testified she has only
had limited contact with the father, which occurred early on
in the case. She testified she sent the father letters at his
Illinois home every month in an attempt to communicate with
him and get him involved in the case. However, in July, DHS
learned from G.J.'s paternal grandmother the father was
in prison in Kentucky "and is not going to be getting
out anytime soon." The father testified at the
termination hearing he was imprisoned on charges of
fraudulent use of a credit card and tampering with evidence
but he would be paroled in July 2019. The paternal
grandmother asked if she could be considered a placement
option for G.J. DHS initiated an ICPC home study request to
Illinois as to the grandmother. The only service the father
requested after the commencement of his incarceration was to
have an ICPC home study conducted as to the paternal
grandmother's home. He did not contact DHS to request
visitation by any medium at his place of incarceration, nor
did he alert the juvenile court of any concern regarding
August 2018, DHS recommended that the permanency goal be
modified to termination of parental rights. At the subsequent
permanency-review hearing, the court ordered that the ICPC
home study as to the paternal grandmother be completed as
quickly as possible and authorized visitation between G.J.
and the grandmother through electronic means. However, the
court also directed the State to initiate termination
proceedings. Thereafter, DHS began facilitating electronic