IN THE INTEREST OF L.M., C.K., and J.T., Minor Children, S.M., Mother, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Kevin Parker,
District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to
three children. AFFIRMED.
A. Forsyth of Forsyth Law Office, P.L.L.C., Winterset, for
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Kathryn Miller, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem
for minor children.
Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Tabor, JJ.
mother, Suzanne, challenges the termination of her parental
rights to three children-eleven-year-old J.T., eight-year-old
C.K., and five-year-old L.M. On appeal, she raises three
claims: (1) termination is not in the children's best
interests under Iowa Code section 232.116(2) (2018); (2) the
juvenile court should have declined to terminate under
section 232.116(3) because of the closeness of the
parent-child relationship and because the children were in
the legal custody of relatives; and (3) the Iowa Department
of Human Services (DHS) did not provide reasonable
reunification services because of the high level of turnover
among the caseworkers assigned to the family.
independently reviewing the record,  our conclusions mirror those
of the juvenile court. Termination of Suzanne's parental
rights serves the best interests of all three children.
Neither the parent-child bonds nor the relative placements
preclude termination. And while the rapid exodus of social
workers was less than ideal for this family, it did not
prevent the DHS from making reasonable efforts toward
methamphetamine use has resulted in the continued removal of
the children from her care. They have been out of the home
since March 2017. The DHS placed the oldest child, J.T., with
his paternal aunt, where he would like to stay. C.K. and L.M.
are living with their respective fathers. As the termination
ruling explained, Suzanne has been "in and out" of
treatment throughout the case. She twice enrolled in
in-patient treatment at the House of Mercy without success.
She also has "shown very little consistency in
visitation." She was in jail at the time of the hearing,
awaiting trial on a charge of operating a vehicle without the
owner's consent. The juvenile court terminated her
parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1),
paragraphs (f) and (l).
appeal, Suzanne does not challenge the State's proof for
those statutory grounds. Instead, she argues termination is
not in the children's best interests and two exceptions
weigh against ending their relationships. See Iowa
Code § 232.116(2), (3)(a), (3)(c).
analysis starts with best interests; our determination must
track the factors in section 232.116(2). See In re
P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010) (rejecting use of an
unstructured best-interests test). That provision focuses on
the children's safety; the best placement for furthering
their long-term nurturing and growth; and their physical,
mental, and emotional condition and needs. See Iowa
Code § 232.116(2).
recalls, before the DHS became involved with her family, she
was "the consistent, single parent who provided for the
children." By contrast, the children's fathers had
little direct involvement. But any history of positive caretaking
by the mother does not insulate the children from her current
methamphetamine addiction. A parent's serious, unresolved
substance-abuse problem may prevent her from exercising the
caretaking necessary to assure the children's safety.
In re J.K., 495 N.W.2d 108, 113 (Iowa 1993).
also argues it is not in the best interest of these
half-siblings to be in three different homes. It is true our
courts prefer keeping siblings together. In re
A.M.S., 419 N.W.2d 723, 734 (Iowa 1988)
("[S]iblings should not be separated without good and
compelling reasons."). But this preference is not
absolute-it must yield to the best interests of the children.
In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 800 (Iowa 2006). The
existing placements-while separating the half
siblings-provide each individual child with the optimal
kinship connections. Moreover, the ...