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In re D.D.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF D.D., Minor Child, J.D., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Glenn E. Pille, Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child.

          AFFIRMED. Teresa M. Pope of Branstad & Olson Law Office, Des Moines, for appellant father.

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

          Erin Romar of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child. He argues the State failed to prove reasonable efforts were provided for reunification. He also asserts he should have been given additional time for reunification and the court should have permitted him to reopen the record after he filed his notice of appeal. Upon our review, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         J.D. is the father and M.K. is the mother of D.D., born in 2015. In March 2018, law-enforcement officers executed a search warrant at the family's residence related to reports that the father was selling drugs from the home. Agents found drugs and other items indicative of trafficking, including loaded and used syringes accessible to the child. The parents were arrested and D.D. was removed from his parents' care. Later, the child's hair tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamine and suggested both environmental exposure and ingestion. The father was incarcerated in June 2018. The child was placed in the care of the father's wife (the child's stepmother), A.D., from whom the father had been separated since 2012. The father and the stepmother have children together, who are not at issue here, and the stepmother did not allow the father to have unsupervised contact with their children "due to concerns about his substance use." The child has remained in his stepmother's care since his removal from his biological parents' care, and his stepmother wishes to adopt him. The stepmother began dissolution-of-marriage proceedings.

         After the child was removed from the parents' care, he was evaluated by a therapist. The therapist's report reflected many concerns:

When [the child] arrived for his assessment, he was displaying severe enough symptoms to meet criteria for PTSD. This child is very young for this diagnosis . . . . The child displayed irritability, anger, aggression, delayed speech, disrupted sleep, difficulty with overeating and a lack of eye contact and interactive play.

         The child showed great strides after receiving a "collaboration of supports in speech therapy, occupational therapy, outpatient therapy, medication management, atten[tion] to his physical health, dental care, and above all, a safe, consistent, nurturing caregiver." The therapist observed that with the stepmother's "patience, and time, this child has shown great growth in healing and development."

         Following a permanency hearing in October 2018, the juvenile court directed the State to begin termination-of-parental-rights proceedings. The court found that the mother's progress in the case was minimal and that the father was in prison and would not be eligible for parole until February 2019. The court also found the father had "not shown sustained sobriety or sustained avoidance of criminal behavior in the community" before his June 2018 incarceration, though the court noted the father was participating in a parenting program in prison. The court did not believe it was reasonably likely the child could be returned to either parent's care in six months. In January 2019, the State filed its petition seeking termination of the biological parents' parental rights.

         A termination-of-parental-rights hearing took place in March 2019. At that time, the father was incarcerated at the Clarinda Correctional Facility serving an indeterminate twenty-year sentence. He participated in the hearing by phone. The father admitted he violated various prison rules while incarcerated, including possession of tattooing materials, having a new tattoo, and making hooch in his cell. He anticipated he would still be paroled in July 2019. The father generally had weekly phone contact with the child unless he was in trouble for rule violations. The father testified that he should have been able to have had in-person visits at the prison with the child because he had met the criteria-halfway completion of the parenting program-but visitation forms required by the Department of Corrections were not completed. He conceded that he had appeared by phone at prior juvenile court hearings in October 2018 and June 2019 but had not requested the Iowa Department of Human Services (Department) to complete a required form. The father further explained the stepmother told him she had sent the visiting forms in but it was not until one week before the termination-of-parental-rights hearing that he was notified by his counselor that the forms had not been filled out. He also claimed the stepmother quit answering his calls three weeks before the termination-of-parental-rights hearing.

         On the other hand, the stepmother testified that the father's testimony that she had stopped taking his calls was inaccurate, and she stated the last call she received from the father was ten days before the termination-of-parental-rights hearing. The stepmother also testified she had filled out the visitation forms. She stated that after the form was filled out, the father told her the child was denied visits. She further testified the father told her recently he could have visits and asked her to send in the form, and she did, but she sent it to ...

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