In re S.S., No. 20-1694

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtSCOTT, Senior Judge.
PartiesIN THE INTEREST OF S.S., Minor Child, T.W., Mother, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 20-1694
Decision Date04 August 2021

T.W., Mother, Appellant.

No. 20-1694


August 4, 2021

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Kimberly Ayotte, District Associate Judge.

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. AFFIRMED.

Jonathan M. Causey of Causey and Ye Law, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

Kayla Stratton of Juvenile Public Defender, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

Considered by Tabor, P.J., Greer, J., and Scott, S.J.*

*Senior judge assigned by order pursuant to Iowa Code section 602.9206 (2021).

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SCOTT, Senior Judge.

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, born in 2020, pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(g) and (h) (2020).1 She argues the juvenile court erred in not placing the child with relatives instead of in foster care, challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the grounds for termination, asserts termination is contrary to the child's best interests, requests application of the permissive exception to termination contained in section 232.116(3)(c) based on the closeness of the parent-child bond, and asks for an additional six months to work toward reunification.

I. Background

The child was born in March 2020. Shortly thereafter, the State filed a child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) petition and an application for temporary removal of the child based on the mother having her parental rights terminated as to four other children in June and August 2019 due to her unresolved substance-abuse issues. Since having her parental rights terminated to the other children, the mother provided at least two positive drug tests when attending prenatal appointments. There were also concerns for domestic violence perpetrated by the putative father against the mother.2 The child was eventually diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and has resulting medical issues and special needs. The mother largely denied consuming alcohol during her pregnancy and denied the child has fetal alcohol syndrome, asserting the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS)

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convinced or persuaded the pediatrician to make such a diagnosis "just to make life hard for" her. The juvenile court entered an order for temporary removal. The court declined to place the child in the care of the maternal grandmother, citing her history of substance-abuse-related charges. Instead, the court placed the child in the legal custody of DHS for placement in foster or shelter care. Following a formal removal hearing, the court confirmed removal and its decision the maternal grandmother would not be a suitable placement. In June, the juvenile court entered a CINA adjudication pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2) and (n). In light of the mother's refusal to undergo drug testing, the court found the mother's statements about not using drugs and alcohol lacking in credibility and concluded those issues continued to pose a risk to the child if placed in the mother's care. The mother requested the child be placed with a maternal uncle, and the court directed DHS to explore maternal relatives for placement. The court also directed the mother to comply with drug testing.

By the time of the dispositional hearing in July 2020, the mother had yet to meaningfully engage in recommended substance-abuse treatment, mental-health treatment, or domestic-violence programming, and she was still not providing requested drug screens. The mother reported her lack of engagement was due to medical issues, which she never substantiated with medical documentation despite being ordered to do so. DHS had investigated the maternal grandmother as a potential placement but had concerns about her insight into the mother's substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence. DHS was also concerned with placing the child in the maternal grandmother's home, as the mother resided

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in the home as well. DHS also investigated the maternal uncle but concluded he did not understand or believe the ongoing concerns as to the mother.

By the time of the permanency hearing in September, the mother had yet to meaningfully engage in services. She was also not consistently participating in visitations. At the permanency hearing, she agreed to submit to drug testing the same day. The court ordered her to do so and advised if the mother missed the test, it would be considered positive. The mother ultimately evaded this drug test as well. The maternal grandmother was still refusing to participate in DHS's efforts to explore her as a placement option, and DHS had concerns about the maternal uncle's ability to care for a medically needy child. As a result of the lack of progress, DHS recommended the initiation of termination proceedings. At the permanency hearing, the mother requested a six-month extension. Based on the mother's lack of participation in services and insight into the concerns permeating the proceedings, the court denied the request and directed the State to file a termination petition, which the State had already done.

The matter proceeded to a termination trial in November, after which the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(g) and (h). The mother appeals.

II. Standard of Review

Appellate review of orders terminating parental rights is de novo. In re A.B., 956 N.W.2d 162, 168 (Iowa 2021); In re C.Z., 956 N.W.2d 113, 119 (Iowa 2021). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the children, In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006), the defining elements of which are the children's

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safety and need for a permanent home. In re H.S., 805 N.W.2d...

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