IN THE INTEREST OF A.K. and O.S., Minor Children, A.S., Mother, Appellant, G.K., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Korie Shippee,
District Associate Judge.
father and mother separately appeal the termination of their
parental rights to two children.
T. Cobie of Brubaker, Flynn & Darland, P.C., Davenport,
for appellant mother.
E. Dusthimer, Davenport, for appellant father.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.
Rebecca C. Sharpe of Aitken, Aitken & Sharpe, P.C.,
Bettendorf, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor
Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and May, JJ.
and Ashley separately appeal from the termination of their
parental rights to two children, six-year-old A.K. and
five-year-old O.S. Gary contends the State did not prove the
grounds to terminate. He also argues the State failed to make
reasonable efforts to reunite him with the children by
providing adequate visitation. Ashely does not challenge the
statutory grounds for termination. Instead, she argues the
State did not make reasonable efforts in considering her
sister as a potential guardian and for the children's
placement. Ashley also argues the court was not acting in the
children's best interests in appointing the Iowa
Department of Human Services (DHS) as the custodian and
guardian and severing her parental relationship despite her
close relationship with the children.
reviewing the record, we find the State offered clear and
convincing evidence of a statutory basis for termination. We
also believe severing the legal relationship with their
parents is in the children's best interests. As is
guardianship with the DHS for the purpose of permanency
through adoption. We further find the DHS acted reasonably in
its efforts to support the parents' attempts to reunify
with the children. We affirm on both appeals.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
has interacted with this family since 2014 because of
continual concerns for Gary's domestic violence, both
parents' substance abuse, and overall instability.
Throughout this time, both parents resisted services. They
were uncooperative and belligerent with the DHS and service
providers. Both parents have a long history of
substance-abuse and mental-health difficulties with few
attempts at treatment. In foster care, the children have
revealed a significant history of abuse- and neglect-related
trauma through aggressive, violent, and sexualized behaviors.
intervened with the family in October 2016 after police
responded to a domestic violence call at their home. Gary,
under the influence of drugs, threw a hatchet at Ashley while
then two-year-old O.S. was nearby. He ultimately pleaded
guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. Gary has not seen or
spoken to the children since committing that crime.
agreed to receive services and kept the children in her care
but did not consistently show a commitment to providing them
a safe and stable environment. The DHS suspected she
continued her volatile relationship with Gary. She did not
participate in mental-health treatment. She did not have
stable housing. She and the children lived with her sister,
Amanda, for a few months. But the landlord eventually decided
too many people were in the dwelling. Homeless, in September
2017, Ashley voluntarily placed the children in foster care.
December 2017 removal hearing, Gary requested visitation. In
its January 2018 adjudicatory order, the juvenile court
acknowledged Gary's request, but flagged the safety
concerns associated with reestablishing contact after being
out of their lives for more than a year. The court found it
appropriate for Gary to start writing letters and move to
video calls before he moved to in-person interactions.
incorporated the letter-writing requirement into its case
plan in early 2018. But Gary's first letter fell short.
In it, he focused on his own problems and suggested the
children would be returning to his care soon. The DHS offered
to help him rewrite the letter but it never happened. In
September, he penned his second letter. But the
children's therapist recommended the letter not be given
to the children. She said, "[T]he benefit of the letter
does not outweigh the risk at this time to the children's
mental health and behavioral stability." She also said,
"[T]he children have not verbalized any feelings of
wishes to communicate with their biological father during
their time in therapy." Relying on the therapist's
opinion, the DHS did not share this or any other letter with
the children. The court agreed with that decision. Thus, Gary