T.D.C., In Interest of, 68400

Citation336 N.W.2d 738
Decision Date20 July 1983
Docket NumberNo. 68400,68400
PartiesIn the Interest of T.D.C., A Child; T.C., Natural Mother, Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Patricia R. Lapointe, Mason City, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., and Brent D. Hege, Asst. Atty. Gen., for State of Ia.--appellee.

Julia Keifer, Mason City, for minor child--appellee.

Considered by REYNOLDSON, C.J., and McCORMICK, SCHULTZ, CARTER, and WOLLE, JJ.

SCHULTZ, Justice.

The natural mother appeals from a decree that terminated the parent-child relationship between her and T.D.C., her five-year-old daughter. We transferred this appeal to the court of appeals. The court of appeals, with two judges dissenting, reversed and remanded with instructions that the trial court issue appropriate orders for custody of the child to be returned to the mother under the supervision and with the assistance of the Department of Social Services. We granted the application for further review filed by the State and the guardian ad litem for the child. We vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The termination proceedings were held in late February 1982 and a decree terminating the mother's parental relationship was entered on March 17, 1982. The decree does not involve the putative father, who was never married to the mother, was never adjudged to be the father, and has never assumed a parental role.

When the petition was filed on January 28, 1982, the State alleged that T.D.C. had been adjudicated by an order of the court dated January 16, 1978, to be a child in need of assistance and had been placed in foster care continuously since the date of adjudication. It further alleged that the child cannot be returned to the home of her mother as she has consistently failed to provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for the child. The State contended that it would be in the best interest of the child to have the parental right terminated.

Although the pleadings and judgment are not completely specific, the parties agree that this termination proceeding was conducted pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(5) which permits termination when the court finds:

a. The child has been adjudicated a child in need of assistance pursuant to section 232.96; and

b. The custody of the child has been transferred from his or her parents for placement pursuant to section 232.102 for at least twelve months; and

c. There is clear and convincing evidence that the child cannot be returned to the custody of his or her parents as provided in section 232.102.

Section 232.116(5)(c) requires reference to section 232.102, which provides in part:

The duration of any placement made after an order pursuant to this section shall be for an initial period of six months. At the expiration of that period, the court shall hold a hearing and review the placement in order to determine whether the child should be returned home, an extension of the placement should be made, or a termination of the parent-child relationship proceeding should be instituted. The placement should be terminated and the child returned to his or her home if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the child will not suffer harm in the manner specified in section 232.2, subsection 5.

Iowa Code § 232.102(6) (1981).

Reference must be made also to section 232.2(5) to determine when a termination proceeding should be instituted. This section defines a "child in need of assistance," and we find the following portions to be pertinent:

"Child in need of assistance " means an unmarried child:

....

b. Whose parent ... neglected the child, or is imminently likely to ... neglect the child.

c. Who has suffered or is imminently likely to suffer harmful effects as a result of:

....

(2) The failure of the child's parent ... to exercise a reasonable degree of care in supervising the child.

....

g. Whose parent ... fails to exercise a minimal degree of care in supplying the child with adequate food, clothing or shelter and refuses other means made available to provide such essentials.

We have imposed a limitation on the language concerning burden of proof contained in section 232.102. In a termination proceeding we require that the issue of whether a child will suffer harm by a return to the parent be shown by the clear and convincing evidence standard that section 232.116(5)(c) (1981) requires. In the Interest of Chad, 318 N.W.2d 213, 219 (Iowa 1982).

The central issue is always the best interest of the child; however, the right of a natural parent in the care, custody, and management of the child allows a rebuttable presumption that the best interest of the child is served by giving custody to the natural parent. Chad, 318 N.W.2d at 218. These principles, with often conflicting and competing rights, are carefully woven into chapter 232 and are first expressed in section 232.1, as follows:

This chapter shall be liberally construed to the end that each child under the jurisdiction of the court shall receive, preferably in his or her own home, the care, guidance and control that will best serve the child's welfare and the best interest of the state.

Iowa Code § 232.1 (1981).

The trial court recognized this clear and convincing evidence standard in its conclusions of law. It then found that for it to remove the child from the security and custody of the custodian and place her with the mother would "in the opinion of this court, not be for the best interest of T.D.C. as it would create severe harm to her by virtue of the erratic movements of the mother, her unpredictable conduct and her apparent lack of understanding and ability to care for a child."

On appeal the mother presents the sole issue of whether there is clear and convincing evidence to justify termination of parental rights.

Principles of appellate review are well known. We recently stated:

Several previously enunciated principles have served to guide our examination of the record before us. Appellate review of the proceedings to terminate a parent-child relationship is de novo; thus "it is our duty to review the facts as well as the law and adjudicate rights anew on those propositions properly preserved and presented to us." We accord weight to the fact findings of the juvenile court, especially when considering the credibility of the witnesses whom the court heard and observed firsthand, but we are not bound by those findings.

Central to a determination of his nature are the best interests of the child. In this connection we look to the child's longrange as well as immediate interest. Hence, we necessarily consider what the future likely holds for the child if returned to his or her parents. Insight for this determination can be gained from evidence of the parent's past performance, for that performance may be indicative of the quality of the future care that parent is capable of providing.

In the Interest of Dameron, 306 N.W.2d 743, 745 (Iowa 1981) (citations omitted).

Under our de novo review we examine the record and initially note some of the mother's problems that existed before she gave birth to T.D.C. We find these problems relevant in our examination of the mother's innate ability to supply the necessary care for the child. In 1975 the mother, then a juvenile, and her family experienced difficulties and the social services assisted in placing her in a group home in another state. Shortly thereafter she was placed in a relative's home in Iowa. This did not work out, however, and she was moved to a group home in Iowa. She ran away, was apprehended, and was returned to this group home. When she became eighteen she dropped out of the group home and decided not to complete the program or her high school education despite the recommendations of the social services and its offer to provide funds for the completion of the program and her high school degree. While the trial court indicated it would not consider her juvenile record, the mother admitted she had been charged with shoplifting as a juvenile.

The record provides us with early clues concerning her personality and stability and foreshadows the difficulties she has experienced. Under the auspices of social services and prior to her entry in the program, she was psychologically evaluated on a referral from a physician. The results of the personality test as shown on the written report from the psychologist showed the mother

to be a quite evasive, defensive individual who no doubt has extreme difficulty at times in being able to distinguish what she wants from what the facts are. In other words, she could tell untruths very quickly, be passively resistant and to be very sensitive to anything that could be construed as a demand upon her. She demands sympathy from others but resents authoritive figures and typically has impulses to resist them. She is likely to project, to be argumentative, to rationalize heavy, to be irritable and to be resentful. She is basically rather narcissistic and is pretty self-indulgent.

... This young lady is likely to need a great deal of structure and control if she is to stay out of trouble. She is at this time feeling the type of personality pattern that is very heavily associated with unmarried pregnancy....

After she left the group home she lived briefly with her father and then with her mother. She soon became pregnant and in September 1976, when she was eighteen, T.D.C. was born. She subsequently moved to her own apartment.

The mother admitted that when T.D.C. was an infant she used various kinds of drugs on several occasions and that she had had a drug problem. In February 1977 Clear Lake police received a complaint that T.D.C. was a victim of child abuse. The mother admitted T.D.C. was bruised, but she claimed the bruise resulted accidently when she tried to slap a big puppy dog that was near T.D.C. and instead hit T.D.C. No child abuse was shown. The social...

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