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In re A.L.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.L., Minor Child, A.L., Father, Appellant, D.W., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Colin J. Witt, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father separately challenge the termination of their parental rights. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

          Cathleen J. Siebrecht of Siebrecht Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellant father. Elizabeth A. Ryan of Benzoni Law Office, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Chuck Fuson of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

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

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The mother and father are the parents of A.L., born in July 2015. The child came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in January 2017. As the mother was in the process of being arrested for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, she disclosed to police that she had left her five children unattended in a hotel room. The children's ages ranged from ten years old to one year old, the youngest being the child in interest.[1] When police arrived at the hotel, they found the children in a room in deplorable condition. Soiled diapers, dirty laundry, and trash littered the floor; the room had a foul odor; mattresses were torn apart; and electrical wires were exposed. The younger children's diapers were soiled and had not been changed for several hours. Police believed the mother had likely left the children unattended on previous occasions. The police also believed the older children's responses to questions suggested the mother coached the children on what to say. The mother was subsequently charged with multiple counts of child endangerment and jailed. After its investigation, DHS returned founded child-abuse assessments against the mother for denial of critical care in relation to each child.[2]

          The court ordered the children's immediate removal from the mother's care and placed the children in the temporary custody of DHS. None of the children's fathers were in a position to have the children placed with them, so the children ultimately ended up in foster care. DHS provided supervised visitation for the mother and father of A.L. DHS recommended substance-abuse treatment, individual therapy, and parenting classes for the mother and recommended substance-abuse treatment and individual therapy for the father.

         The court adjudicated A.L., along with the other children, to be a child in need of assistance (CINA) in February. Because none of the children's fathers were in a position to care for the children when they were removed from the mother's care, the court also considered this a removal from all the fathers' care.

         The father of A.L. suffers from several mental-health issues and takes medication. He also has a history of drug use, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The father suffered a stroke when he was twenty-one years old due to excessive methamphetamine use. The father attended treatment but relapsed in May 2017. He also had a mental breakdown and was subsequently hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. The father stopped attending treatment and therapy services after claiming his counselor suggested they go buy some methamphetamine together. The father struggled with housing and employment. After his relapse, the father became inconsistent with his visitation, missing a month's worth of visits. He informed DHS this was due to needing some personal time. Due to his behaviors, DHS believed the father had relapsed again. The mother reported that domestic violence was present in all of her relationships, including with the father. The father denied physically abusing the mother but admitted the relationship with his paramour was volatile and he had physically abused her. He was arrested in June for throwing a brick through his paramour's window.

         In June, the mother was arrested for driving while barred as a habitual offender and spent over a month in jail. Once released, she was homeless. She stayed with family or friends, including an uncle who was an active alcoholic. In July, the mother reported she was pregnant. In August, she entered Hope Ministries shelter and began engaging in its substance-abuse and mental-health services. Due to the mother's progression in services, her visitation with the children increased and ultimately the two oldest children were returned to her care in December. The mother also gave birth to another child in December. The three youngest children were returned to her care in January 2018. The court conditioned the children's return to the mother's care on her continued placement at Hope Ministries.

         After the children were placed with the mother, she struggled to balance her treatment with meeting the children's needs. She often blamed her inability to gain insight and attend required classes on the fact that she had six children. The room she shared with the children was in disarray and appeared to be on a path to the deplorable conditions found in the hotel, which led to the children's removal and DHS's intervention. In May, the mother was discharged from Hope Ministries after being unable to successfully complete its program. She failed to follow through on expectations, had unauthorized medication, and failed to take accountability. Due to having no housing, the mother became despondent and threatened to kill herself. She was hospitalized for a short period of time on a psychiatric evaluation hold. All the children were again removed from her care. A.L. was placed with the paternal grandmother, and the other children were placed in foster care. When DHS spoke with the mother about the importance of ongoing therapy, the mother reported she had reengaged in mental-health services. However, her therapist reported to DHS that she had not seen the mother in over a year and the mother failed to attend a recent appointment. The mother then began sessions with a new therapist.

         The father was incarcerated on two occasions for forgery during the proceedings, in December 2017 and August 2018. In its October permanency order, the court found the father was not in a position to have custody and that both the mother and father were not making reasonable progress to achieve the permanency goal of reunification or complying with other provisions of the permanency plan. The court modified the permanency goal from reunification to termination of parental rights. In December, the State petitioned to terminate both parents' rights. It sought to terminate the ...

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