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In re A.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN THE INTEREST OF A.C. and P.C., Minor Children, N.C., 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.

          Lanny M. Van Daele of Van Daele Law, LLC, North Liberty, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Anthony A. Haughton of Linn County Advocate, Inc., Cedar Rapids, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Schumacher, J., and Vogel, S.J. [*]

          VOGEL, SENIOR JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two daughters, A.C., born 2007, and P.C., born 2011. Because of the mother's cognitive and physical disabilities, she is unable to care for herself or for her children. The juvenile court found, and we agree, termination of the mother's parental rights is in the best interests of the children.[1] We therefore affirm.

         The family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in March 2018, when the mother's physical condition made it difficult for her to tend to the children's daily care. The mother has been diagnosed with Huntington's disease, which affects both physical and cognitive function. The children were removed and placed with their paternal aunt and uncle, where they had frequently stayed in the past; they have remained in the same home throughout these proceedings. The mother stipulated the children were in need of assistance, and the family began receiving services. Although the mother's substance use was a concern, the primary focus of services was on managing the mother's medical condition. With the mother's physical and mental function in decline while the children's need for care and stability increased, a petition for termination of the mother's parental rights came on for hearing in June 2019. After receiving evidence, including expert medical testimony and reports, the juvenile court found the State proved the grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence, termination is in the children's best interests, nothing precluded termination, and termination was preferred over the establishment of a guardianship, under our case law and Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f), (2), and (3) (2019). The mother appeals.

         We review termination proceedings de novo. In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d 489, 492 (Iowa 2000). We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, but we give them weight, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses. Id. Concerned that the written transcript of these proceedings would not accurately convey the mother's demeanor during her testimony, the juvenile court directed an auditory recording of her testimony.[2]

         The juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f), which provides the court may terminate parental rights if it finds all of the following:

(1) The child is four years of age or older.
(2) The child has been adjudicated a child in need of assistance pursuant to section 232.96.
(3) The child has been removed from the physical custody of the child's parents for at least twelve of the last eighteen months, or for the last twelve consecutive months and any ...

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