Most Iowa Court of Appeals decisions that pertain to family law or juveniles are uninteresting or insignificant to anyone but those individuals who are directly involved in the case. Occasionally, an attorney practicing family law or juvenile law should scan the decisions to find fine points of law used in the practice. We rarely bother to read those cases. However, one recent ruling raised our eyebrows.
A mother gave birth to her fourth child. Within a month, the child was adjudicated a “child in need of assistance” [CINA] by the Iowa Department of Human Services. The mother fought this adjudication for several reasons. But first, let’s share some background.
The birth mother had a long history of drug offenses, bad choices and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The mother’s other children had all been adjudicated as CINA’s previously. Those three children had witnessed an incident in which the driver of the vehicle they were in shot at police and fled. Their mother was in the passenger seat. Marijuana and methamphetamine were in her system. This was not the first instance of drug possession, violence, or involvement with Human Services.
At the time of the youngest child’s adjudication as a CINA, the baby’s 3 older siblings were back living with their mother. The mother was doing everything to turn her life around. She successfully completed an inpatient substance abuse program, followed through on every service available to her, spent 2 months living with her children in Women’s and Children’s Center, and lived with her brother before she obtained and sustained suitable living for herself and her children.
Like an ad on late night television, “but that’s not all!” She was participating in therapy “and made steady progress in both her recovery process and her relationship with her children”. She changed her friends, secured a car, and, according to the guardian ad litem, took “the steps necessary for a complete rehabilitation and she is learning to parent sober.”
The Department of Human Services is relentless, cold and unforgiving. The minute her fourth child was born the State petitioned to have the child adjudicated as a CINA based only upon the exhibits that were created during the mother’s troubled times. The juvenile court granted the petition because, even though the mother “is working on her substance abuse issues . . . it is evident that she has not overcome her addiction.” (Emphasis mine.) No one overcomes an addition. Day by day; minute by minute – that’s the only way to work a program. Any addict can tell you about the difficult times of maintaining sobriety. What did she have to do to convince the court that she was not the same mother that had the previous 3 children in need of assistance?
The chapter in the Iowa Code that pertains to juveniles, Chapter 232, lives by the premise of what is in “the child’s best interest”. How could jerking the child away from this fragile mother be in the best interest of anyone?
In the end, this sane panel of three appellate judges concluded that the record “does not contain clear and convincing evidence the child is imminently likely to be abused or neglected or to suffer harmful effects as a result of a lack of supervision.” Good for them!