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In re A.W.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 19, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.W., J.W., J.W., J.W., and M.W., Minor Children, S.W., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Kimberly Ayotte, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the order terminating her parental rights to five children.

          Elena M. Greenberg, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          ConGarry Williams of Juvenile Public Defender, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         Shauna appeals the order terminating her parental rights to five children: five-year-old Je.W., four-year-old twins Jo.W. and Ju.W., three-year-old A.W., and two-year-old M.W.[1] She contends she was denied due process and equal protection when the juvenile court refused her request for transcripts of prior proceedings. Next, she contends the State failed to prove the Iowa department of human services (DHS) made reasonable efforts toward reunification. She also alleges it is not in the children's best interests to terminate her rights. Finally, she asserts the court should have denied the petition to terminate based on the closeness of the parent-child relationship and the children being in a relative placement.

         After our independent review, [2] we share the conclusions of the juvenile court and affirm termination.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In summer 2016, the DHS conducted two child-abuse investigations of Shauna, returning assessments finding she failed to provide adequate shelter, medical care, and supervision to her four young children. The DHS workers discovered the children in a filthy, pest-infested home with unexplained and untreated burn injuries. One child had several painful, rotting teeth, for which Shauna had not sought dental care. Two children were outdoors without supervision; Shauna had locked them in a room and they crawled out a window. The DHS removed the children and placed them with their maternal grandmother, Diane. At the time, Shauna was pregnant with the youngest child, M.W., who was removed from her care a few days after his birth.

         Shauna was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. She acknowledged a significant history of methamphetamine and alcohol use. Although she has seen a therapist, she has derived little benefit because her intellectual functioning makes it difficult for her to grasp abstract concepts. Her therapist reports her mental-health impairments significantly impact her ability to parent. She does not acknowledge the children's behavioral concerns, nor does she accept feedback on her parenting. She was unable to provide a clean and safe home environment for the children or obtain needed medical or mental-health care for herself or the children. She was homeless throughout the child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) case, staying with friends.

         The three oldest children display significant trauma-related difficulties: Je.W. has speech delays and attends psychotherapy to address her mental-health diagnosis of adjustment disorder. As part of the DHS case plan, Shauna was expected to participate in Je.W.'s therapy, but she had only limited involvement. In the six months before the termination hearing, Shauna did not attend and did not call to ask about Je.W.'s progress. The therapist opined Shauna disrupted Je.W.'s progress by threatening physical discipline and telling Je.W. she would return to living with Shauna. The therapist further reported Shauna's conduct "has left [Je.W.] in limbo and has affected her sense of safety."

         In a similar vein, the therapist for Jo.W. and Ju.W. reported neither child is able to talk about their mother or their previous home life without "shutting down." They both display severe symptoms of emotional and behavioral dysregulation including anxiety, delays in motor and cognitive skills, physical aggression, inability to form positive relationships, inability to self-calm, and severe sleep disturbances. The therapist also reported disturbances from Shauna causing regression in their progress. The therapist stressed the twins' immediate need for a permanent caregiver and a minimization of ...


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