In re Interest of J.J., No. 9-887/09-1350 (Iowa App. 11/25/2009), No. 9-887/09-1350

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtDoyle
PartiesIN THE INTEREST OF J.J., Minor Child, N.S.M., Mother, Appellant.
Decision Date25 November 2009
Docket NumberNo. 9-887/09-1350

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N.S.M., Mother, Appellant.
No. 9-887/09-1350
Court of Appeals of Iowa.
Filed November 25, 2009

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hardin County, Kim M. Riley, District Associate Judge.

A mother appeals from the order terminating her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

Bethany J. Currie of Johnson, Sudenga, Latham, Peglow & O'Hare, P.L.C., Marshalltown, for appellant mother.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kathrine S. Miller-Todd, Assistant Attorney General, and Randal J. Tilton, County Attorney, for appellee State.

Richard N. Dunn of Dunn & Dunn, P.C., Eldora, for minor child.

Considered by Sackett, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Doyle, JJ.

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A mother appeals the district court order terminating her parental rights to one-and-a-half-year-old J.J. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The Iowa Department of Human Services became involved with this family shortly after J.J.'s birth in April 2008. The mother has a full-scale IQ of 61, placing her in the mild mentally retarded range. Since J.J.'s birth, the mother has received numerous services, including financial assistance, budgeting, transportation (the mother did not have a valid driver's license), and help with housekeeping and tidiness. The mother has also received help to receive Social Security benefits for her mental impairment.

DHS arranged for thirty days of intensive in-home safety services by a Youth and Family Center worker. After the thirty days, the worker continued to meet with the mother on a weekly basis to assist with parenting skills development, supervision, and other daily living skills. The mother also met weekly with Greenbelt Home Care to evaluate J.J.'s physical health, and AEA 267 to evaluate J.J.'s developmental needs.

In July 2008, the mother married a man that she claimed was J.J.'s father. She later denied these allegations, and J.J.'s biological father has not been identified. The couple lived together with J.J. in Ackley in the mother's apartment. The marriage became unstable by September 2008, and the mother reported the husband was physically abusive toward her. The couple separated in January 2009. The mother filed for divorce and moved into an apartment in Iowa Falls.

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The mother cooperated with the services offered to her, but failed to exhibit any significant amount of improvement in her parenting skills. The mother was unable to safely parent J.J. on her own without the assistance of a professional agency, and lacked the appropriate knowledge of beliefs and attitudes toward child care.

J.J. was removed from the mother's care on December 2, 2008, and was placed in family foster care where she has remained since that time. The removal was necessitated by the mother's travel to California, when she left J.J. with a person that DHS had not approved of, and without financial and medical care.1 The mother indicated to service providers that she intended to be gone in California for at least thirty days and made threats to abscond with J.J. Since J.J.'s removal, the mother has had regular visitation, initially supervised visits once a week, and progressed to partially unsupervised visits twice weekly.

The mother's requests for fully unsupervised visits were denied, as she failed to make adequate improvements in her parenting. At one point, the visits were increased in frequency and duration; however, service providers reported the increased visits were stressful for J.J., and the visits were decreased. J.J. became agitated and anxious during visits. The mother often got angry and yelled or swore at J.J. The mother did not recognize that J.J. was not old enough to comprehend what she was saying, and that J.J. did not understand why she was being disciplined.

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The mother's home was not a safe environment for J.J. On numerous visits to the mother's apartment, J.J. would find cigarette butts and other debris on the floor and put them in her mouth. Even with the help of service providers to clean her apartment, the apartment was usually cluttered and messy at the time of J.J.'s visits. The mother consistently failed to have appropriate food for J.J., and failed to cut food into small pieces that J.J. would not choke on. These problems continued even after service providers repeatedly reminded the mother that she needed to be careful with J.J. and keep her apartment clean and safe for J.J. The mother failed to understand that J.J. could not distinguish household dangers. Service providers demonstrated how to perform specific parenting duties, and although the mother listened and complied, she failed to make sufficient improvements. The mother did not intentionally disregard the service providers' parenting advice and suggestions, but rather, her limited mental capacity impaired her abilities.

Service providers informed the mother that she would likely need someone else providing twenty-four-hour supervision over J.J. in order to safely return J.J. to her care. The mother attempted to find a roommate, but several plans fell through. The mother did not have good relationships with family members, and her relationships with friends were unstable and routinely deteriorated after a matter of months. Shortly before the termination hearing, the mother moved in and signed a month-to-month lease with a friend in Hampton. The mother indicated this friend was a mother of three children who could assist the mother with parenting J.J.

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In July 2009, the State filed a termination petition. After a contested hearing, the court terminated the mother's parental rights on September 1, 2009, pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(h) (2009). The mother now appeals.

II. Scope and Standard of Review.

We review termination proceedings de novo. In re...

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