In re J.E.

Decision Date17 November 2006
Docket NumberNo. 06-0459.,06-0459.
Citation723 N.W.2d 793
PartiesIn the Interest of J.E., Minor Child, R.E., Mother, Appellant. v. State of Iowa, Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Michael O. Carpenter of Webber, Gaumer & Emanuel, P.C., Ottumwa, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kathrine S. Miller-Todd, Assistant Attorney General, and Jason Helm, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

Robert E. Breckenridge and Kenneth A. Duker of Breckenridge & Duker, P.C., Ottumwa, guardians ad litem for minor child.

STREIT, Justice.

Due to a mother's neglect of her ten-year-old son, a juvenile court terminated her parental rights. The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court's decree. Because the child cannot be safely returned to his mother's care and because termination is in the child's best interests, we vacate the court of appeals' decision and affirm the decree of the juvenile court.

I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

Jerimiah was born on April 17, 1996. He is of low intelligence and suffers from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). He operates on a much younger level than his age and is unable to make good or safe decisions. Jerimiah also has heart arrhythmia. He requires medication and a low-sugar, no-caffeine diet.

His mother is Robyn and his father is alleged to be either Luther of La Plata, New Mexico or Kevin of Lakeside, Arizona. Jerimiah does not have a relationship with either man. Robyn has five other children: Cody, born January 28, 1989; Cory, born September 18, 1990; Elyjah, born September 19, 1992; Cheyana, born September 12, 2000 and Savanah, born July 14, 2002. Robyn's two daughters live with their father, Michael, in Ottumwa.1 During the juvenile court proceedings, Elyjah lived with his father, Luther, in New Mexico part of the time.

Jerimiah first came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) on July 7, 2004 when he was taken into custody by law enforcement and placed in foster care. On that date, Robyn had left Jerimiah home alone for up to fourteen hours. Jerimiah was eight years old at the time. Concerned neighbors called the police because Jerimiah did not know where his mother was or how to contact her. Two neighbors reported Jerimiah was often alone from morning until bedtime. He spent long periods of time at their homes because he was hungry and scared. Jerimiah told one of the neighbors his mother threw all of their food away because their home did not have electricity. While the police officers were interviewing Jerimiah in the front lawn, Robyn drove by. She paused and then drove on. She was later arrested for driving while barred. Robyn does not have her driver's license due to unpaid fines ($5877).

During the investigation of this incident, Robyn admitted to a police officer her home did not have electricity. She consented to a drug test, which came back positive for opiates. Robyn said she had fallen the week before in a parking lot and was taking Tylenol 3 as a result. Her friend also gave her a pill to help with the pain. The test was negative for other substances. Robyn told a police officer she worked every day and had to do community service hours.

A subsequent Child Protective Assessment verified the neighbors' allegations. This was the third founded report for denial of critical care based on Robyn's failure to properly supervise Jerimiah.2

Two days after Jerimiah was removed from the home, Robyn and Jerimiah's brothers moved because Robyn did not have money to pay the electric bill. They lived for about two weeks at the home of their pastor and then moved to the Crisis Center. In mid-August they moved to a rented home on Kruger Street in Ottumwa. Due to a $700 unpaid electric bill, Robyn had to have the utilities placed in a friend's name. At the end of March 2005 the family moved again to their current home on South Van Buren in Ottumwa. Robyn's gas was shut off in June 2005 because she did not pay her bill. She was able to get the gas turned back on within a few days. Robyn was unemployed throughout the juvenile court proceedings except when she worked at Burger King for three months. The family receives welfare, food stamps, and medical assistance from DHS.

Jerimiah was adjudicated a child in need of assistance on October 12, 2004, as defined in Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2) (2003) and remained in the care and custody of DHS. Numerous services were provided to the family by DHS. Services included parent skill development services for Robyn, psychological evaluation of Robyn, psychiatric evaluation of Jerimiah, and individual therapy for Robyn and Jerimiah. Robyn accepted these services but her participation was inconsistent. At times, Robyn was not awake or was not prepared for parent skills sessions which were conducted in her home. She was also inconsistent in attending Jerimiah's medical and psychiatric appointments although she was requested to do so.

At the department's behest, Robyn began seeing a therapist but failed to regularly attend her appointments. She was diagnosed with AD/HD, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Robyn acknowledged physical and child sexual abuse by her father. Her mother died of a heart attack when Robyn was just two years old. She dropped out of school in the eleventh grade when she became pregnant.

DHS continues to have concerns with Robyn's parenting ability. At the beginning of this case, Robyn told the in-home provider she relates to her children more as a peer than a parent. Robyn admitted she does not feel she needs to be a parent to her children all of the time "because she doesn't want to bitch at them." The DHS reports Robyn is not affectionate toward Jerimiah and there is not much interaction between the two of them.

At first, DHS limited Robyn to supervised visits with Jerimiah. Robyn progressed to partially unsupervised visits on October 25, 2004. Jerimiah's foster parents agreed to take Jerimiah to Robyn's home for visits and the in-home provider would be present for the second half of the visits. The unsupervised part of the visit was discontinued on November 16, 2004 because Robyn was not keeping her appointments with her therapist and the in-home provider was concerned Robyn was not able to consistently provide a structured environment. Robyn did not regularly have activities and meals planned for Jerimiah during the visits. On February 2, 2005, DHS resumed partially unsupervised visits. Approximately three weeks later, DHS once again limited Robyn to supervised visits with Jerimiah because she was not attending her therapy appointments, was not calling Jerimiah daily as she had been requested to do, and she missed a parent/teacher conference.

In March 2005, DHS resumed partially unsupervised visits because Robyn was calling Jerimiah more consistently and was keeping her therapy appointments. She met with Jerimiah's teacher. She went to the library and checked out a book on parenting without prompting. Robyn even walked five miles in order to visit Jerimiah.

DHS granted Robyn unsupervised overnight visits with Jerimiah in May 2005. A permanency hearing was held on July 8, 2005, at which time Robyn was given an additional six months to pursue reunification. On August 4, 2005, Robyn's visits with Jerimiah were increased from one overnight to three overnights a week. However, DHS once again limited Robyn to supervised visits after she was arrested for shoplifting at Wal-Mart on August 8, 2005.3 Jerimiah was in the store with Robyn and saw her get arrested. Robyn initially lied and told the social worker Jerimiah was not with her. Robyn testified at the termination hearing she lied out of fear DHS would terminate her parental rights. Jerimiah told a child protective worker it is okay for his mom to steal if she needs food for her children.

Besides shoplifting, Robyn has made other poor decisions. In December 2004, Robyn was ticketed for allowing her son Cody to drive without a license. In March 2005, Robyn was charged with violating the compulsory school attendance law for Cody. According to the school attendance officer, Cory had missed thirty-one days of school by the month of March. Robyn pled guilty and was fined $100. On May 9, 2005, Robyn returned Jerimiah to his foster home thirty to sixty minutes early without notifying the foster parents. Neither foster parent was home so Robyn left Jerimiah in the care of a teenage foster boy. A few days later, Jerimiah told Robyn the boy sexually abused him while they were alone.4 Additionally, Robyn considered allowing a truck driver, whose last name she did not know, pick up Elyjah in New Mexico and return him to Ottumwa. After the in-home provider advised Robyn her idea was too risky, Robyn took a bus to New Mexico to pick him up herself.

The State filed a petition for termination of parental rights on October 31, 2005. The juvenile court held a termination hearing on November 21, 2005. The in-home provider for the family testified there is a lack of bonding between Jerimiah and his mother. However, Jerimiah has repeatedly stated he misses his mom and siblings and wants to be home with them. Jerimiah thinks Robyn is the "best mom ever." DHS recommended termination because Robyn is unable to provide a consistent, stable, and structured home environment for Jerimiah. Although Robyn has been able to make progress for short periods of time, she is unable to sustain those changes.

DHS acknowledges Jerimiah has a close relationship with his brothers. During visits Jerimiah usually played with his brothers. They would play video games, play sports, draw, talk, joke around, play with action figures or watch movies. At the termination hearing, Cody testified about his bond with Jerimiah. He said "we miss him a lot every day . . . . There's always a void."

Jerimiah is a sweet and loving child. He is personable and gets along well with other children. He likes to give and receive attention. Despite his special...

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