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In re W.L.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF W.L. and E.L., Minor Children, C.W. and D.C., Intervenors, Appellants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas J. Straka, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         Intervenors appeal the denial of their petition to remove the Iowa Department of Human Services as guardian of two children who were removed from their care.

          Stephanie R. Fueger of O'Connor & Thomas, P.C., Dubuque, for appellants.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anna T. Stoeffler, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Zeke R. McCartney of Reynolds & Kenline, Dubuque, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         This appeal raises questions about the placement of E.L. and W.L. after the juvenile court terminated the rights of their biological parents. Craig[1] and his husband, Dwight, challenge the denial of their motion to remove the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) as the children's guardian. Intervenors Craig and Dwight argue the DHS acted unreasonably and not in the children's best interests by removing the children from their care over concerns about inadequate supervision. The juvenile court agreed the DHS acted unreasonably but decided disrupting the children's current pre-adoptive placement was not in their best interests. After giving the record fresh consideration, [2] we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The children involved in this appeal are E.L., born in 2014, and W.L., born in 2015. Their parents' drug use and incarceration led to DHS removing the children from their home. After a brief placement with their paternal grandmother, the children moved in with relatives, Craig and Dwight, who are also licensed foster parents, in December 2017. The couple also cared for another set of three siblings, who were cousins to E.L. and W.L. In addition, Craig's ten-year-old biological daughter, K.W., lived with them-making it a household with six children.

         Craig and Dwight run a dairy farm. Dwight handles most of the farm operation, and Craig concentrates on the home-cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. The couple planned to adopt all the children in their care.

          In April 2018, the juvenile court terminated the rights of the biological parents of W.L. and E.L. and appointed the DHS as the children's guardian. Placement with Craig and Dwight continued, but the DHS did not move to appoint the couple as guardians. Before this time, everyone involved in the child-welfare case reported E.L. and W.L. were doing well Craig and Dwight's care.

         Trouble arose in June 2018 when Cheri Alun, a provider of Behavioral Health Intervention Services, visited the residence and observed the children, including K.W., seemingly unsupervised in the yard. She saw one older child running a trimmer and another mowing with a lawn tractor; both children were around nine or ten years old. Three younger children were nearby. In search of an adult, Alun knocked on the front door and received no response; she went to the back door and also received no response. When she returned to the front door, Craig answered. He had not been able to immediately answer the door because he was upstairs helping another child, who was sick. Alun estimated the response took about five minutes.

         After that incident, the DHS removed all five foster children[3] from the home, citing a lack of proper supervision. The DHS placed the children temporarily with a foster family, then with their paternal uncle, Joe, and ...


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