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In re A.R.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 11, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.R. and S.R., Minor Children, J.R., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Daniel L. Block, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         The father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his two children. AFFIRMED.

          Jamie L. Schroeder of The Sayer Law Group, P.C., Waterloo, for appellant father.

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

          Tammy L. Banning of Juvenile Public Defender's Office, Waterloo, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A father, Jeremy, appeals the termination of his parental rights to his two children, A.R. born in 2007, and S.R., born in 2011.[1] The juvenile court terminated Jeremy's parental rights to both children under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2019), paragraphs (e), (f), (j), and (l). Jeremy does not dispute the statutory grounds for termination. Instead, he maintains termination of his parental rights is not in the children's best interests. See Iowa Code § 232.116(2). He also relies on the closeness of his bond with A.R. and S.R. to argue the juvenile court should have placed the children in a guardianship with their maternal grandmother rather than terminate his parental rights. See id. § 232.116(3)(c).

         Those arguments did not dissuade the juvenile court from terminating. It reasoned: "Permanency through an adoptive placement is clearly in the children's best interests." After our independent review of the record, we reach the same conclusion as the juvenile court.[2]

         Given Jeremy's concession of the statutory grounds for termination, we start our analysis with the best-interests question. See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010) ("Because the father does not dispute the existence of the grounds, we do not have to discuss this step."). In doing so, we give primary consideration to the children's safety, to the best placement for furthering their long-term nurturing and growth; and to their physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs. Iowa Code § 232.116(2).[3]

         Jeremy's methamphetamine abuse and dealing has long been an issue for the family. Because of that drug exposure, as well as domestic violence, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) removed the children from their home in December 2012 through January 2014. The children's second removal-which led to these termination proceedings-took place in February 2018.[4] The primary danger again was Jeremy's involvement with methamphetamine. Following the children's removal, the State convicted Jeremy of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. He received an indeterminate prison sentence of twenty-five years in prison.[5]

         In the years between the children's two removals, they were present in the home while their father perpetrated domestic violence against their mother and then their step-mother, their mother overdosed and ultimately died, and the police conducted a drug raid. After their second removal, the children reported having often gone without food while in Jeremy's care. They also recalled a turbulent household, where Jeremy would break televisions, phones, plates, and cupboards. The children would cower in their bedroom when their father was acting violently.

         Despite having inflicted that trauma, Jeremy refused to allow the children to participate in counseling while in his custody. Only after they entered their grandmother's care did they start therapy.

         As for his own mental health, Jeremy did not engage in therapy or drug treatment between the second removal and his arrest.[6] Neither was he participating in substance-abuse or mental-health programming while in prison.

         Since Jeremy's incarceration, the DHS has facilitated visitation with the children. When the Department of Corrections placed him at Clarinda, the visits were by Skype technology. When Jeremy moved to Anamosa, the children started to visit twice a month in person. As she has learned about her father's situation, eleven-year-old A.R. has been more vocal about her frustrations with him being unavailable because of his "bad choices." But the DHS worker acknowledged both children ...


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