IN THE INTEREST OF J.G. and J.G., Minor Children, L.G., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, Paul G.
Crawford, District Associate Judge.
father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his
Jeffrey P. Hazen of Grimes, Buck, Schoell, Beach &
Hitchins, Marshalltown, for appellant father.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ellen Ramsey-Kacena,
Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State
Merrill C. Swartz of Swartz Law Firm, Marshalltown, attorney
and guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Schumacher, JJ.
father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his
children. He challenges the sufficiency of the
efforts made to reunite the family and contends termination
is against the children's best interests. In the
alternative, the father seeks to avoid termination by arguing
that it would harm the children because of the closeness of
the parent-child bond. We review his claims de novo. See
In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472 (Iowa 2018).
first address the father's claim that the Iowa Department
of Human Services (DHS) failed its obligation to "make
every reasonable effort to return the child[ren] to the
child[ren]'s home as quickly as possible consistent with
the best interests of the child[ren]." Iowa Code §
232.102(9) (2019); accord In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d
489, 493 (Iowa 2000) ("The State must show reasonable
efforts as part of its ultimate proof the child cannot be
safely returned to the care of a parent.").
"[R]easonable efforts" are "the efforts made
to preserve and unify a family prior to the out-of-home
placement of a child in foster care or to eliminate the need
for removal of the child or make it possible for the child to
safely return to the family's home." Iowa Code
§ 232.102(12). The concept of reasonable efforts
"includes visitation designed to facilitate
reunification while providing adequate protection for the
child." C.B., 611 N.W.2d at 493. Although the
DHS must "make every reasonable effort" to return a
child to the child's home "as quickly as possible
consistent with the best interests of the child,"
id. (citation omitted), the DHS has to supply only
those services that "are reasonable under the
circumstances." In re S.J., 620 N.W.2d
522, 525 (Iowa Ct. App. 2000) (citation omitted).
"Whether visitation for an incarcerated parent should be
ordered as a reasonable effort toward reunification when
timely raised by the parent will depend on the circumstances
of each case." In re L.M., 904 N.W.2d 835, 840
n.9 (Iowa 2017).
father bases his argument on his lack of visitation with the
children while incarcerated during the first year of the of
the child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) proceedings. The
juvenile court placed the children with the paternal
grandparents. The father was in jail at the time. He was not
offered any visits with the children while in jail because
the mother did not want the children to go to the jail. Asked
why the mother got to make that decision if the children were
in the custody of DHS, the social worker responded, "I
don't know." After the father was transferred to the
Iowa Department of Corrections in July 2018, visitation was
still not offered because "[the father] didn't
request any." The father did not request visitation
until the January 2019 permanency hearing and the DHS began
visitation the next month.
without deciding the father's request for visitation
reunification services was timely, based on a consideration
of all of the relevant factors, we find the services offered
to the father were reasonable under the circumstances.
See id. ("The services required to be supplied
to an incarcerated parent, as with any other parent, are only
those that are reasonable under the circumstances.").
Although additional visits may have helped form a bond
between the father and children, the benefit flowing from
additional visits would not have outweighed the immediate
needs of the children. See In re M.B., 553 N.W.2d
343, 345 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996) ("[N]o evidence indicated
increased visitation would help [the parent] respond to the
various services offered by the DHS and assist her in
becoming a better parent."). The services provided by
the DHS were reasonable under the circumstances of the case.
father next contends termination goes against the
children's best interests. See In re D.W., 791
N.W.2d 703, 706-07 (Iowa 2010) (requiring that the court
"apply the best-interest framework set out in section
232.116(2) to decide if the grounds for termination should
result in a termination of parental rights"). In
determining best interests, our primary considerations are
"the child[ren]'s safety," "the best
placement for furthering the long-term nurturing and growth
of the child[ren]," and "the physical, mental, and
emotional condition and needs of the child[ren]." In
re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 37 (Iowa 2010) (quoting Iowa
Code § 232.116(2)). The "defining elements" we
consider in making this determination are the children's
safety and "need for a permanent home." In re
H.S., 805 N.W.2d 737, 748 (Iowa 2011) (citation
is in the children's best interests. The father's
intravenous use of methamphetamine and violent behavior led
to his incarceration and removal from the children's
lives for over a year. He remained incarcerated at the time
of the termination hearing. Although the father received
parole one month later, eighteen months passed between the
inception of the CINA proceedings and the order terminating
his parental rights. The father needs additional time to
address "numerous concerns" before he can care for
the children safely. These children cannot afford to allow
the father the luxury of additional time tacked on to the end
of what is already a long proceeding in relation to their
young lives. See C.B., 611 N.W.2d at 494 (noting
that although the law requires a "full measure of
patience with troubled parents who attempt to remedy a lack
of parenting skills," the legislature built this
patience into the statutory scheme of chapter 232); In re
R.J., 436 N.W.2d 630, 636 (Iowa 1989) (noting that once
the time for reunification set by the legislature has
expired, "patience on behalf of the parent can quickly
translate into intolerable hardship for the children");
In re A.C., 415 N.W.2d 609, 614 (Iowa 1987)
("It is unnecessary to take from the children's
future any more than is demanded by statute.").
decline to take any more time from these children. Children
are not equipped with pause buttons, and delaying permanency
in favor of a parent conflicts with the children's best
interests. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 112 (Iowa
2014) (noting children must not be deprived of permanency on
the hope that someday the parent will be able to provide a
stable home); A.C., 415 N.W.2d at 614 (noting that
in considering whether to allow a parent additional time to
remedy parenting deficiencies, the court should
"constantly bear in mind that, if the plan fails, all
extended time must be subtracted from an already shortened
life for the children in a better home"); In re
T.J.O., 527 N.W.2d 417, 422 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994)
("Children simply cannot wait for responsible parenting.
Parenting cannot be turned off and on like a spigot. It must
be constant, ...