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In re F.K.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 25, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF F.K. and F.K., Minor Children, F.K., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Floyd County, Karen Kaufman Salic, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two minor children.

          Elizabeth A. Batey of Vickers Law Office, Greene, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anna T. Stoeffler (until withdrawal) and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee State.

          Cynthia Schuknecht of Noah, Smith, Schuknecht & Sloter, P.L.C., Charles City, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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


         A mother appeals the juvenile court order terminating her parental rights to her two minor children, F.K. and F.K. The juvenile court terminated her parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e), (h), and (k) (2019).[1] The mother argues the State has not met its burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the mother has "not maintained significant and meaningful contact" with the children under paragraph (e)(3); (2) the children could not be returned to her custody at the time of the termination hearing under paragraph (h)(4); and (3) the mother's "prognosis indicates that the child will not be able to be returned to the custody of the parent within a reasonable period of time" under paragraph (k)(3). She further argues terminating her parental rights is not in the children's best interest and the juvenile court erred by refusing her request for a six-month extension rather than terminating her parental rights.

         I. Factual History and Background Proceedings

         At the time of the termination hearing, the older child was almost two and one-half years old and the younger child was almost one and one-half years old. The mother and the children lived together with L.H., an unrelated adult man whom the mother later admitted was her significant other, and with whom the mother has been involved in domestic violence incidents on more than one occasion.

         The mother has a long history of mental-health issues. She is a person with lower cognitive ability and was temporarily under the guardianship of her parents as an adult. She has been diagnosed with bipolar personality disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. She had five psychiatric hospitalizations between spring 2014 and spring 2015 and fled Iowa to avoid involuntary committal proceedings during that period. The mother also has a history of attempting or threatening to attempt to commit suicide. In March 2018, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved after the mother attempted suicide by drug overdose while the children were in her care. The mother limited the services to only Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) and psychiatry services, and then did not engage in the services offered.

         The events leading to these proceedings occurred in July 2018. On July 20, the mother was committed for psychiatric hospitalization after she threatened to commit suicide by jumping into a river with one of the children. DHS removed the children from L.H.'s home where they were living with their mother and L.H. that same day after DHS staff smelled marijuana on them. The children were placed with their current foster parents, where they have remained.

         The children were adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA) in September 2018. The juvenile court ordered the mother to obtain a substance-abuse evaluation, participate in FSRP services, the Families Together program, and Crisis Intervention Services, and show that she provided adequate financial support and appropriate housing for the children. At first, the mother did not engage in any services. She did not participate in FSRP, Families Together, or Crisis Intervention Services. She missed most of the scheduled visits with the children, did not get a substance abuse evaluation performed as requested, and was not receptive to suggested changes to her parenting.

         The mother's participation in services improved by the December 2018 permanency hearing. She began attending substance-abuse and mental-health treatment and was regularly taking her psychiatric medications. She still refused to accept advice on changing her parenting, however, and often was not attentive or prepared during visits. During one visit, for example, the mother tried to feed the younger child a French fry, despite the child being less than a year old. ...

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