Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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In Re N.M.W

Citation. In Interest of N.M.W., 461 N.W.2d 478, 1990 Iowa App. LEXIS 321 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 30, 1990)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellant challenged a juvenile court’s finding that her child was a child in need of assistance based primarily on appellant’s extremely dirty apartment, which included animal feces on the floor.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The majority found that removal from the mother’s house was warranted based on the extreme squalor found at the apartment and the potential harm that could arise from such squalor.

Facts. Appellant appeals the adjudication of the juvenile court determining N.M.W. to be a child in need of assistance (CINA) and the subsequent order directing continuing foster care of her. The child in question was born in 1983 and lived with her mother from birth until 1989. The Department of Human Services became involved as early as 1984, filing several abuse reports. The primary concerns were extreme filth in the home, inadequate food in the home, inadequate supervision of the child and refusal of services by the mother. In April, 1989 the child was found in front of a house a block from the mother’s residence. Police were unable to locate her home, and she told authorities at the police station that her mother had told her to go outside. Based on this situation a child protective worker visited the mother’s apartment, where she found a stench of cat feces and urine, the house strewn with garbage, clothing, and other clutter, and a total of eleven to twelve cats living a
t the apartment. In the bathroom the cats had defecated along the bathtub and some of the child’s clothing was stuck to the fecal material. The child protective worker returned to the apartment on multiple occasions but always found similar conditions.

Issue. Did the trial court err in finding the existence of sufficient evidence to establish N.M.W. as a child in need of assistance?

Held. The record demonstrates clear and convincing evidence to support the juvenile court’s determination that N.M.W. is a child in need of assistance.
A child in need of assistance is defined by statute as an unmarried child whose parent, guardian, or custodian 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.

The chronic unsanitary conditions of the mother’s apartment are sufficient to form a basis for the CINA adjudication. The Court takes judicial notice of the health hazards of having animal fecal matters scattered throughout the living quarters. The child’s well being demands action be taken to prevent actual harm.

Dissent. The reason for the removal is that the mother is an inadequate housekeeper and does not keep what the majority terms a sanitary house. I agree that it is in the child’s best interests to live in an cleaner house, but the house could have been cleaned without taking the child from her mother. I do not believe that removal was in the child’s best interests. Furthermore, the majority decision is concerning because it could present precedent for setting standards for housekeeping that need to be met before we allow parents to keep their children.

Discussion. The majority based its decision on the health concerns related to the squalor found at the mother’s apartment, while the dissent argued that measures should have been taken to have the house cleaned without removal of the child.