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In re I.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF I.P., Minor Child, B.C. and B.C., Intervenors, Appellants.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Barbara H. Liesveld, District Associate Judge.

         Foster parent intervenors appeal the juvenile court order denying their motion to remove the Iowa Department of Human Services as guardian.

          Angela M. Railsback of Railsback Law Office, Cedar Rapids, for appellants.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Kimberly A. Opatz of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          TABOR, Judge.

         "In this case, there is not one, but two, homes that want to be [the child's] forever home." That is how the juvenile court described the tug-of-war over one-year-old I.P. in its order denying a motion by the foster parents to remove the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) as her guardian. The motion followed termination of I.P.'s biological mother and father's parental rights. The foster parents, Brad and Bobbi, intervened in I.P.'s case and challenged the DHS decision to move I.P. to the home of Richard and Patricia, the adoptive parents of I.P.'s half-sister. Brad and Bobbi allege the DHS acted unreasonably in not sending timely relative notices and the new case permanency plan is not in I.P.'s best interests.

         After our independent review of the record, [1] we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court: "the DHS has not failed in its guardianship duties or in looking out for [I.P.]'s best interests." Thus, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         I.P. never lived with her biological parents, Joshua and Haley. She tested positive for illicit drugs at her birth in October 2017. The DHS removed the newborn from parental care and placed her with foster parent Sandy. Sandy relied on Brad and Bobbi to provide respite care for I.P. So, according to the DHS, when the agency placed I.P. in the home of Brad and Bobbi in early April 2018, the transition was "seamless." The DHS considered Brad and Bobbi as prospective adoptive parents. And I.P. thrived in their care, according to reports from the guardian ad litem (GAL).

         Shortly before the termination hearing for Joshua and Haley in May 2018, the DHS case worker realized she had not complied with the notice requirements of Iowa Code section 232.84 (2018).[2] Upon investigating, the DHS discovered Haley's older biological daughter, J.D., had been adopted by Richard and Patricia. J.D., who is I.P.'s half-sister, was then eight years old. Richard and Patricia did not have ongoing contact with Haley and did not know about I.P.'s birth. The case worker testified she told Brad and Bobbi at a pretrial conference that she was belatedly sending out the relative notices. The relative notices in the record were dated June 27, 2018.

         Once they learned of I.P.'s situation, Richard and Patricia asked for visitation, which began in mid-July 2018. In that same time frame, the juvenile court issued its order terminating the parental rights of Joshua and Haley. After the termination, Brad and Bobbi moved to intervene. They asserted: "It was shocking to them to now be told out of the blue that another half-sibling is in Davenport, and that this family is interested in being a placement option for [I.P.]." The foster parents also asked the court to remove the DHS as I.P.'s guardian.

         The juvenile court granted the motion to intervene in August 2018. Meanwhile, the DHS completed a home study for Richard and Patricia; the study recommended I.P. transition to their home "with the intention of this becoming a pre-adoptive placement." The juvenile court allowed I.P. to remain with Brad and Bobbi until it heard evidence on their motion to remove the DHS as guardian. The court heard that motion across three days in late November 2018 and late January 2019.

         In April 2019, the court denied the motion to remove the DHS as guardian. Before reaching its conclusion, the court found the DHS acted unreasonably in failing to timely contact I.P.'s relatives: "Had DHS done its due diligence at or near the beginning of this case, as required by law, [Richard and Patricia] would have received notice well before [I.P.] was ever placed with [Brad and Bobbi]." The court determined the DHS's failure "led to increased trauma to [I.P.] and a delay of permanency," as well as "avoidable heartache" for both sets of parents. But the ...


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