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In re T.F.-M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 19, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF T.F.-M., T.M., G.M., and A.G., Minor Children, F.F., Intervenor, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E. Seymour, District Associate Judge.

         A paternal grandmother appeals the juvenile court's order denying her motion to intervene in pending child-welfare cases.

          Magdalena Reese of Cooper, Goedicke, Reimer & Reese, P.C., West Des Moines, (until withdrawal) and Ronald E. Langford of Langford Law Office, LLC, Des Moines, for appellant intervenor.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Nicole Garbis Nolan of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Karl Wolle of the Des Moines Juvenile Public Defender, Des Moines, attorney for minor child A.G.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A grandmother, Frances, challenges the juvenile court's order denying her motion to intervene in the child-welfare cases involving four children: T.F-M, T.M., G.M., and A.G.[1] Although Frances loves these children, her efforts to provide them a home came long after their removal from parental custody. In addition, the guardian ad litem (GAL) questioned Frances's capacity to protect the children given her unwillingness to accept that her son, Brian, was responsible for the death of another child and posed a risk of sexually abusing children. In light of these facts, we find no error in the juvenile court's denial of the motion to intervene.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The grandmother's delay in seeking intervention concerned the juvenile court. Indeed, it has been two years since the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) opened child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) cases for A.G., G.M., and T.M. in June 2017 because of their parents' ongoing struggles with substance-abuse and mental-health issues. The CINA disposition occurred in September 2017. The DHS removed the youngest child, T.F.-M., from the parents' custody in February 2018, two days after her birth.

         One month later, the DHS launched its search for kinship placements, sending out notices to relatives, including Frances. Frances did not respond. In June 2018, the children's mother, Sadie, expressed concern the DHS had not contacted the grandmother. Sadie also told the DHS that she and Brian considered "signing over guardianship" to Frances. The DHS worker verified Frances had received notice of the children's removal; Frances decided not to get involved because "Brian wanted to handle this situation as a man." Frances conveyed a willingness to be a placement for her biological grandchildren, but not for A.G. because of the child's behavioral challenges.

         In assessing whether the grandmother would be a viable placement option, the DHS worker explored Frances's view of the family dynamics. Frances reported in the past Brian had been "a really good dad" and she could not believe "he would hurt the kids." Despite Brian's conviction for manslaughter in connection with the October 2000 shaken-baby death of his two-month-old child, Frances insisted, "Brian did not hurt that baby." Frances also described Brian's founded child-abuse investigation as the child's mother "getting even with Brian," and refused to believe Brian might be selling drugs to pay for the family's living expenses.

         The case moved forward without much progress toward reunification by the parents. The DHS placed T.F-M, T.M., and G.M. in foster homes where they became integrated into those families.[2] In July 2018, the State petitioned to terminate parental rights. That same month, Frances, without an attorney, asked the court to consider her as a "good candidate" for care of the children. The court held an initial hearing on the grandmother's request in August 2018.[3] Without reaching a decision, the court assured Frances "even the parties [who] have indicated they don't believe that you should be granted the request ...


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