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In re A.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.M., B.M., and K.L., Minor Children, J.L., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Kevin Parker, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

          Zachary C. Priebe of Jeff Carter Law Offices, PC, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Yvonne C. Naanep, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

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


         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to three children: K.L., born in February 2014; B.M., born in June 2015, and A.M., born in July 2016.[1] The mother contends there is not clear and convincing evidence to support the grounds for termination, termination is not in the children's best interests, the court erred in not applying one of the factors weighing against termination, and the State failed to make reasonable visitation efforts. We affirm because grounds for termination exist, termination and permanency for the children is in their best interests, no factor weighs against termination of the mother's parental rights, and the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) made reasonable efforts to accommodate the mother's move.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         This family has been involved with DHS since July 2016. DHS completed a child-protective-services (CPS) assessment after it was alleged that on July 12, Jacob[2] returned to the family home intoxicated, kicked in the door of the home, and physically assaulted the mother by striking her in the back of the head while two-year-old K.L. was in the mother's arms.[3] One-year-old B.M. was also present in the room. Police were called and Jacob was charged with domestic abuse assault. A protective order prevented Jacob from having contact with the mother. The family agreed to voluntary DHS services.

          In September 2016, another CPS assessment was initiated because K.L. was found outside unattended. When law enforcement arrived at the mother's residence, Jacob was outside looking for K.L.; B.M. had been left unattended in a crib in the residence. The mother was in the hospital for a medical procedure, and A.M. was staying with the maternal grandmother. K.L. and B.M. both had soiled diapers, there was tobacco and rolling papers within reach of K.L., and a free-standing fan was on without a protective cover over the blades. K.L. had his hand almost in the blades before Jacob was able to redirect him. Jacob was placed under arrest for violating the no-contact order, which prohibited him from residing or being in the immediate vicinity of the mother's residence.

         During the assessment, the investigator also learned of an August 20, 2016 incident reported to police: Jacob was intoxicated and took K.L. to a neighbor's, leaving B.M. and one-month-old A.M. alone in the mother's residence. When neighbors went to check on the children at the request of the mother (via telephone), Jacob physically assaulted one of the neighbors. Jacob's mother, Linda, was called and agreed to stay and care for the three children. Jacob was not arrested at that time. The mother did not report the incident to DHS. The CPC assessment found both the mother and Jacob had denied the children critical care.[4]

         The mother and Jacob consented to the removal of the children on September 19, and the three children were placed in Linda's care.

         On November 9, the children were adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA).

         On November 17, Jacob was screened for chemical dependency and found to have an alcohol-use disorder. Outpatient treatment was recommended.

         A family team meeting was held on November 22, which identified a number of concerns: the mother was to engage with a domestic-violence advocate to address domestic-abuse and mental-health issues. Jacob was court-ordered to attend a domestic-abuse program (IDAP). He was also to engage in substance-abuse and mental-health treatment. Both parents were to participate in parenting education. The no-contact order had been lifted. The parents were living together and were attending couple's counseling with a pastor. Both parents were working. Neither had a driver's license or consistent access to a phone.

         A November 27 report to the court indicated Jacob had started outpatient treatment at the House of Mercy, had a probation officer, and was wearing an alcohol monitoring (SCRAM) device.

         On December 7, 2016, the juvenile court entered a dispositional order continuing out-of-home placement for the children. The court noted, "Parents need to continue their substance abuse treatment and Jacob needs to continue domestic abuse classes and follow recommendations of probation. The parents need to show that they can provide a safe living environment for the children."

         An April 2017 report to the court prepared for the May CINA review hearing noted the "family is fully engaged in offered services," specifically listing both parents enrolled in Parents As Teachers and Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) services, the mother was engaged in mental-health counseling, and Jacob was participating in substance-abuse treatment and IDAP classes. The report also noted the "[p]arents utilize any and every opportunity they can to see their children" and had progressed to semi-supervised visits. The court continued out-of-home placement.

         The father completed substance-abuse treatment. Both parents were employed and were seeing their children as often as ...

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