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In Re Grant

JUNE 2, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR N. HAMILTON, Judge, presiding.


After a hearing, the juvenile division of the circuit court entered an order finding that Johnnie Mae Grant (respondent) was unfit to retain custody of her twin children. The court appointed a guardian of the person of these children with authority to consent to their legal adoption. Respondent appeals.

In this court, respondent raises one issue: the evidence adduced at the hearing does not support the finding that respondent is unfit to retain custody of the children. The People of the State of Illinois, petitioner herein, respond with the contention that respondent was an unfit parent, never had custody of her children and seldom visited them.

The children involved are Tracy Grant and Troy Grant, born May 31, 1967. The record contains no information regarding their father other than a showing that respondent attempted unsuccessfully to obtain some contribution from him toward support. Respondent has never had custody of the children. On June 26, 1967, before they were 1 month old, a petition was filed in the juvenile division charging respondent with neglect of the children. On August 4, 1967, the court found these babies to be neglected children and they were adjudged wards of the court. From that time on, the children lived in foster homes. In June of 1970, the children were placed with Haddie Boone as their foster mother, and they have remained with her continuously to this date.

Testimony was given by two social workers, by the present foster mother and by respondent. Chris Benson, one of the social workers, was associated with the situation from November 1970 to February 1972. During this entire period of time, respondent did not visit the children although the witness "encouraged" her to do so. Linda Powell has been the social worker assigned to the case from December 1972 to the present time. She testified that the children had never lived with the respondent. To her knowledge, there had been no contact between the children and their natural father at any time. Respondent visited the children once in June of 1973 and once in January of 1974. The witness met with the respondent on March 30, 1973. Respondent told her then that she was not able to take custody of the children. The witness suggested that respondent visit with the children and told respondent that she could arrange a visit between respondent and the children at the office of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The foster mother, Haddie Boone, testified that she had no contact with respondent during 1970 after placement of the children and none during all of 1971. During that time, respondent did not telephone, sent no cards or letters and no gifts for the children. In 1972, respondent visited the children once in May and once in June. That year she sent the children no cards or letters. She did send them some gifts during May 1972, at the time of their birthday. In June 1973, respondent visited with the children at her own home. Mrs. Boone took them there for that purpose. During that year, respondent sent no cards or letters to the children. She did, however, give both of them gifts of clothes and bicycles. During 1973, respondent telephoned the children perhaps four or five times. During 1974, to the date of the hearing (February 14, 1974), respondent visited the children once at the home of the witness. The witness testified that she would be willing to adopt the twins if the court could terminate the rights of their natural parents.

According to the testimony of Mrs. Boone, the children, now approximately 8 years of age, spoke to their mother and she thought that the visits went "well." There have been some discussions between Mrs. Boone and the respondent during which the former offered to care for the children as a babysitter in the event that the court returned them to respondents' custody. In further discussions between them, respondent indicated that it would be necessary for her to have a larger apartment if she should be granted custody of the children. Mrs. Boone then told respondent that the children would start school in September. Mrs. Boone testified that the children address her as "Mamma." They refer to the respondent as "Johnnie." However, the record shows that the children are aware of the fact that respondent is their mother.

Respondent testified that during 1973 she bought each of the children a bicycle which cost her some $85. In addition, she bought them some clothes for about $30 because they were going away on a 2-week vacation with Mrs. Boone. She also detailed various toys that she had purchased for the children, between the fall of 1973 and the date of trial, at a cost of approximately $100. She testified that her visits with the children at the home of Mrs. Boone went well and that the children gave her a Christmas gift of some handkerchiefs. All of them enjoyed the visits. She has never told the children directly that she might arrange for them to visit in her apartment. She knew from comments by the children that they were aware of the fact that she was their mother.

The respondent testified that her present income is about $175 a week which nets her $126. She has been working since May of 1973. Prior to that time she was on public aid from which she received $159 per month. Her apartment consists of a large living room, a kitchen and bedroom for which she pays rent of $110 per month. She stated that she was looking for a larger apartment, perhaps with two bedrooms; so far without result. She calculated that she could obtain larger quarters for $150. She was always under the impression, received from one of the social workers, that it would be necessary for her to be employed and to have a larger apartment if she wished to obtain custody of the children. At the time of trial she was 27 years old.

It should be noted that on cross-examination respondent testified that she would like to have the children stay with Mrs. Boone for 5 days each week so that she could have custody of them on the weekends. Mrs. Boone makes her home in Harvey, Illinois. In order for respondent to visit there, it would be necessary for her to take the Chicago elevated train and then to take another train to a station identified only as "151st." Apparently Mrs. Boone lives some distance from the station as respondent testified that it was necessary to take a taxicab from the station but that sometimes Mr. Boone would pick her up. At the time of her last visit, Mrs. Boone picked respondent up at the train station.

Analysis of the rights of these parties must necessarily commence with an examination of the Juvenile Court Act and the adoption act of 1959. The Juvenile Court Act states its purpose and policy as preservation and strengthening of the family ties of a minor whenever possible and "removing him from the custody of his parents only when his welfare or safety or the protection of the public cannot be adequately safeguarded without removal * * *." In the same portion of the statute, the legislature provided that it "shall be administered in a spirit of humane concern * * *." Furthermore, it provides that "[t]he parents' right to the custody of their child shall not prevail when the court determines that it is contrary to the best interests of the child." The statute provides that it shall be "liberally construed." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 37, par. 701-2.

The statute also sets out a procedure, such as involved in the case before us, whereby the court may appoint a guardian of the person authorized to consent to the adoption of the minor in accordance with the adoption act of 1959 which is specifically referred to in the Juvenile Court Act. In setting out this procedure, the statute also refers to the adoption act, stating, "A finding of the unfitness of a non-consenting parent must be made in compliance with that Act." See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 37, par. 705-9.

Similarly the adoption act contains a number of provisions pertinent here. Relative to the term "unfit person", the statutory definition describes as grounds for unfitness ...

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