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In re A.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF A.C. and A.C., Minor Children, H.C., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Susan Cox, District Associate Judge.

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

          Chira L. Corwin of Corwin Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

          Lynn Vogan of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Bower, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Greer, JJ.

          GREER, Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to two minor children. She argues she could resume custody of the children at the time of termination and termination is not in their best interests. We disagree and affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         H.C. is the mother of Ax.C., born in December 2014, and Ad.C., born in October 2017.[1] Despite the children having different fathers, Ax.C.'s father and paternal grandmother, R.R., have been actively involved in Ad.C.'s life since he was born.

         The Department of Human Services (DHS) involvement began when Ax.C. tested positive for marijuana at birth. It became apparent that the mother had a long history of mental-health and substance-abuse issues.[2] Her diagnoses involved bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety. She struggled with consistently taking her mental-health medications and attending therapy. Her drug use included marijuana, methamphetamine, and at times cocaine. Even though she has participated in both inpatient and outpatient substance-abuse treatment several times, each unsuccessful attempt ended with a return to destructive behavior.

          These destructive behaviors involving the mother's mental-health and substance-abuse issues contributed to the family being involved with DHS at various times throughout the children's lives.[3] Because of the history of DHS involvement, there have been multiple child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) cases, some of which were closed successfully. Yet, concerns remained resulting in new CINA adjudications for Ax.C. on September 6, 2017, and for Ad.C. on July 9, 2018.

         The most recent removal of the children occurred on May 15, 2018, over allegations that Ax.C.'s father repeatedly punched the mother in the face in front of the children.[4] There were also suspicions that the mother was using methamphetamine. These behaviors led to a founded child-abuse assessment against the mother and father. DHS placed the children with R.R.

         After that, the mother began to spiral. She tested positive for methamphetamine and admitted to using methamphetamine and marijuana. Even though she engaged in outpatient substance-abuse and mental-health treatment, she began to miss appointments with her therapist and substance-abuse counselor. In June, her substance-abuse counselor noted concerns that the mother was "struggling and getting depressed." In July, having obtained maximum benefits, she was discharged from outpatient treatment with a recommendation to re-engage inpatient treatment.

          To her credit, she obtained admission to an inpatient program, but she admitted to using methamphetamine the day before entering the program. By August 13, that inpatient treatment program discharged her because she was "escalating quickly with her peers, struggling with mental health[, ] and exhibit[ing] threatening behaviors."

         Without the structure of inpatient treatment, the mother canceled several visits with the children in August, and she attended no visits with the children from September 20 to October 9. On October 6, the mother admitted to using methamphetamine. She attended a supervised visit with the children on October 10. At this visit, she told the Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) worker that she had not been attending treatment regularly and was looking into returning to inpatient treatment. The next day, the mother was arrested and charged with identity theft, six counts of unauthorized use of a credit card, and theft in the fifth degree. She was in jail until November 1.

         On December 3, the mother began her most recent attempt at inpatient substance-abuse treatment. She claimed she had been sober since October 6. Yet, she tested positive for marijuana on December 14. Even so, the mother disputes that she was using marijuana at the time of that drug test.

         Based on the downward spiral, on January 6, 2019, the juvenile court entered a permanency order directing the State to proceed with termination of the mother's parental rights to both children. On January 16, while still in an inpatient setting, she got into a verbal argument with another resident and could not calm down when staff intervened. During this incident, the staff was concerned about the safety of the other residents. Unsuccessful with this treatment, the program discharged the mother.

         After her discharge from inpatient treatment, the mother again began participating in outpatient treatment. To her credit, she re-engaged with mental-health treatment and started taking her medication more consistently. The mother pleaded guilty to three ...


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