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In re J.N.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 25, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.N., Minor Child, D.K., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District court for Johnson County, Jason A. Burns, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          Don W. Schroeder, Iowa City, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Brian D. Johnson of Jacobsen, Johnson, & Wiezorek, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, attorney and guardian ad litem for child.

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

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         In July 2019, the juvenile court terminated D.K.'s parental rights to J.N., her youngest child born in 2017, under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2019).[1] The mother appeals the order, asserting that the State failed to prove the ground for termination and that termination is not in the child's best interests. She also contends the juvenile court should have granted her another six months to work toward reunification. Our review is de novo. See In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019).

         Under Iowa Code chapter 232, parental rights may be terminated if: (1) a "ground for termination under section 232.116(1) has been established" by clear and convincing evidence, (2) "the best-interest framework as laid out in section 232.116(2) supports the termination of parental rights, " and (3) none of the "exceptions in section 232.116(3) apply to preclude termination of parental rights." In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472-73 (Iowa 2018).[2] The juvenile court can also defer termination of parental rights if "specific factors, conditions, or expected behavioral changes" lead the court to "determin[e] that the need for removal of the child from the child's home will no longer exist at the end of [an] additional six-month period." Iowa Code § 232.104(2)(b). In determining whether termination of parental rights is in a child's best interests, we give "primary consideration to the child's safety, to the best placement for furthering the long-term nurturing and growth of the child, and to the physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs of the child." Id. § 232.116(2).

         "A parent does not have an unlimited amount of time in which to correct his or her deficiencies." In re H.L.B.R., 567 N.W.2d 675, 677 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997). The "legislature has carefully constructed a time frame to provide a balance between the parent's efforts and the child's long-term best interests." In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 707 (Iowa 2010). After statutory timelines have run, the children's best interests are promoted by termination. See In re S.N., 500 N.W.2d 32, 35 (Iowa 1993). Simply put, children are not equipped with pause buttons, and they cannot wait indefinitely for stable parents. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 112 (Iowa 2014) (noting children must not be deprived permanency on the hope that someday the parent will be able to provide a stable home); D.W., 791 N.W.2d at 707.

         Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) allows the court to terminate parental rights if a child (1) is three years old or younger, (2) has been adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA), (3) has been out of the parent's custody for at least six of the last twelve months and any trial period at home has been less than thirty days, and (4) cannot be returned to the parent at present without continued risk of adjudicatory harm. The mother does not dispute the State proved the first three elements; indeed, those elements are clear from the record. Rather, she challenges only the element that the children cannot be returned to her at present. See id. § 232.116(1)(h)(4). Upon our de novo review, we find the State proved that element of paragraph (h) with clear and convincing evidence.

         As the juvenile court noted in its July 2019 ruling, the mother has a history of involvement with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS):

Over the last two years, [the mother] has not been able to demonstrate stability or sobriety. Just prior to the birth of [her youngest child] . . ., a hair test was done on [the mother] by DHS. This test showed that she was positive for . . . methamphetamine.

         The child was removed from the mother's care in August 2018 after the child and his older siblings-not at issue-were left unsupervised and the mother could not be contacted. The child had been in a dirty diaper for more than twenty-four hours, and all the children were outside and dressed inappropriately. After removal, the child's hair was tested and found positive for ...

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