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In re R.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF R.F., I.F., and A.F. Minor Children, S.F., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, David F. Staudt, Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          Christina M. Shriver, Waterloo, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Melissa A. Anderson-Seeber of Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Waterloo, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and May, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her three minor children, R.F., born in 2016; I.F., born in 2017; and A.F., born in 2018.[1] The mother argues the State did not make reasonable efforts at reunification and challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underlying the statutory grounds for termination cited by the juvenile court.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         In August 2017, I.F. presented to the emergency room with a broken shoulder bone that was sustained while she was being supervised by the father; the mother was at work at the time. In September, the parents presented to the emergency room with both R.F. and I.F. relative to scabies and scalp lesions. At the time, I.F. was also experiencing issues with her leg. It was determined I.F. had a broken femur, which occurred weeks earlier. The parents were unable to explain the injuries. A doctor determined the injuries were likely related to abuse. The father acknowledged caring for the children while intoxicated and ultimately admitted to inflicting the injuries to I.F. The parents agreed to a safety plan that called for placement of the children with the paternal grandmother, prohibited unsupervised contact between the parents and children pending a child-abuse investigation, and required the parents to cooperate with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). The State filed child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) petitions as to both children. The father was arrested on a charge of child endangerment resulting in serious injury and a no-contact order was entered between the father and I.F. The children were adjudicated CINA in October and formally removed from the parents' care. The court ordered that the father have no contact with the children. The primary concerns in this case were the father's alcohol abuse and mental-health and anger issues and the mother's inability to detach herself and the children from the father.

         The father was eventually released from jail. By December, the mother had participated in a psychological evaluation and began attending individual therapy. However, concerns were still looming that the mother would allow the father around the children, as the parents continued to have frequent contact with one another. Over the course of the next several months, the mother made significant strides in several areas and progressed to unsupervised visitation with the children, including overnights. Yet, she continued to indicate her intention of remaining in a relationship with the father, whose lack of engagement in services was concerning, and an inability to recognize the danger the father posed to the children.

         In July 2018, the court granted DHS's request for deferral of permanency for an additional six months to allow the father to engage in services and the mother to better understand the risks the father poses to the children. However, in August, the parents and children were found together in a car during one of the mother's unsupervised overnight visits. Both parents were arrested. The mother's visitation reverted to fully supervised. A.F. was born to the parents in September. A.F. was immediately removed from the parents' care.[2] A.F. was adjudicated a CINA in December.

         The mother was advised her continuing relationship with the father negated her ability to have the children returned to her care. In December, the mother began reporting she ended her relationship with the father. The court and DHS found the mother's reports lacking in candor. By January 2019, the court, upon DHS's recommendation, directed the State to initiate termination proceedings for the purpose of determining whether the mother would finally be able to put the children over her relationship with the father. The mother's visitation progressed to semi-supervised. However, her visitation reverted to fully supervised in March when she was observed dropping the father off at work.

         Following a termination hearing over two days in April, the court terminated the mother's parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d) ...

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