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In re A.K.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 25, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.K. and O.S., Minor Children, A.S., Mother, Appellant, G.K., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Korie Shippee, District Associate Judge.

         A father and mother separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to two children.

          Joshua T. Cobie of Brubaker, Flynn & Darland, P.C., Davenport, for appellant mother.

          Jack E. Dusthimer, Davenport, for appellant father.

          Thomas 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 children.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and May, JJ.

          Tabor, Presiding Judge.

         Gary 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.

         After 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.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The DHS 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.

         The DHS 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.

         Ashley 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.

         At the 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.

         The DHS 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 ...


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