IN THE INTEREST OF E.S., Minor Child, E.S., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Clarke County, Monty
Franklin, District Associate Judge.
father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his
M. Stone, Des Moines, for appellant father.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Elcock of Elcock Law Firm, Osceola, attorney and guardian ad
litem for minor child.
Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
always taken an interest in [E.S.]." The caseworker
testified Elija had a near-perfect record of attending visits
with his seven-year-old child. And the interactions were
"overall positive" between father and son. Yet the
juvenile court terminated Elija's parental rights,
finding he failed to maintain significant and meaningful
contact with E.S. Because our de novo review reveals
inadequate proof of that statutory ground for termination, we
reverse the juvenile court order and remand for further
Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) removed E.S. from the
care of his mother, Brittany, in July 2017 based on her drug
abuse. E.S.'s father, Elija, was not living
in the home with Brittany and E.S. at the time of removal.
Elija's participation in the case started in
mid-September 2017 when he received notice of the
child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) hearing.
case permanency plan issued in December 2017 directed Elija
to undergo substance-abuse and mental-health evaluations. He
completed those evaluations, neither of which recommended
August 2018, Elija began supervised visits with E.S. Elija
was a reliable participant. He met four times with the FSRP
(Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency) worker alone. And Elija
attended thirty of thirty-two visits offered with his son.
During those two missed visits, Elija was hospitalized with a
serious heart condition. The FSRP reports consistently noted
E.S. was happy to see his father, they exchanged hugs, and
Elija provided his son with meals and discussed appropriate
did have concerns about Elija's use of controlled
substances. He tested positive for cocaine and marijuana in
August 2018. Elija was honest about smoking marijuana but
lied about using cocaine. He said he had been sober for three
years but relapsed because of the stress of the CINA case. He
asserted he lied because he feared the consequences from the
DHS. Elija was on parole for a felony drug conviction and was
set to discharge his sentence in March 2020.
State filed its petition to terminate parental rights in
December 2018. The juvenile court held the termination
hearing in March 2019. Elija testified he had been involved
with his son's life since he cut the umbilical cord in
the delivery room. Elija lived with Brittany and helped feed,
clothe, and bathe E.S. until the child was about four years
old. After Brittany and Elija separated, they had an informal
shared-care agreement. Brittany stopped allowing Elija time
with E.S. in the months leading up to the DHS involvement
with the family.
further explained he was now in a stable relationship with
his fiancé Emma with whom he has two daughters. Elija
expressed a desire for E.S. to have a relationship with those
half-siblings. Elija detailed his health conditions including
a peptic ulcer, gastro reflux, and back problems. He