APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Will County; the Hon. MICHAEL
A. ORENIC, Judge, presiding.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE ALLOY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This is an appeal from a decree of the Circuit Court of Will County finding that the father of the child Melody Renay Hrusosky had consented to adoption and that the mother, Betty Hrusosky, was unfit due to "failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the child's welfare." The Department of Children and Family Services moved the trial court for authority to place Melody Renay Hrusosky, a ward of the court, for adoption (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 4, par. 9.1-5; ch. 37, par. 705-9; ch. 4, par. 9.1-1D(b)). The mother, Betty Hrusosky, appeals from such order of the trial court, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of unfitness.
From the record it appears that the minor, Melody Hrusosky, was born on August 15, 1968, and was immediately placed with the Department of Children and Family Services pursuant to previous arrangements made by Mrs. Hrusosky and papers signed by her on the day after the child's birth. Melody has been in the foster care of the Gordon family since that time. The arrangement was formalized in February 1969 when the child was made a ward of the court (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 37, pars. 704-1 et seq.) by order of the circuit court and an order of protection was issued against the parents of the child, prohibiting them from visiting the child or otherwise interfering in the guardianship of the child without further order of court or permission of the guardian.
Three years later, on February 24, 1972, the Department petitioned the court for authority to place the child for adoption, asserting that appellant was unfit as defined in the Adoption Act due to both abandonment and failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 4, par. 9.1-1D(a), (b)). The parties appeared in court in March of 1972, at which time the matter was transferred by the then sitting judge to another judge of the Circuit Court of Will County. Nothing else appears of record until May 13, 1974, when the Hrusosky parents appeared before the circuit judge in a divorce proceeding and the still-pending juvenile petition was brought to the court's attention. The father at that time consented to adoption, and, after a hearing, the mother, Betty Hrusosky, was found to be unfit on one of the grounds alleged in the petition.
At the hearing Mrs. Hrusosky testified that she originally gave the child to the Department for several months because she did not think she could adequately care for her at home, with several other children to worry about and considerable difficulty in her marriage. Mrs. Hrusosky said she wanted someone to care for Melody for a few months while she looked for a job, and that she always intended to regain custody eventually. She asserted that the Department personnel thwarted her constant efforts to visit the child and that she at no time indicated agreement with plans to put Melody up for adoption.
A child counselor for the county testified that he counseled the Hrusoskys during the first part of 1969. He stated that while the father indicated an interest in having Melody returned, Mrs. Hrusosky opposed the idea and said she did not want the child. Mrs. Hrusosky told the witness that she could not take care of Melody in addition to the other children, and that she did not want Melody around while she and her husband were not getting along. Another witness, a caseworker for the Department, testified that she had 12 to 15 interviews with the mother until February 1972, when the petition referred to herein was filed. She said that while Mrs. Hrusosky did make a couple of inquiries regarding visitation, she thought it best to postpone any such plans because the Department had thoughts of placing the child up for adoption. When the idea of adoption was presented to Mrs. Hrusosky, the witness said Mrs. Hrusosky indicated her agreement with this procedure. Because of the mother's acquiescence in the adoption plan, no specific arrangements for visitation were ever made.
When the adoption petition was filed in February 1972, and Mrs. Hrusosky appeared in court on the petition in March of 1972, she indicated her continuing approval of adoption of the child but was angered at being labelled "unfit" in the petition. Mrs. Hrusosky also indicated her approval of adoption as late as the court hearing in May 1974, on her divorce, provided she got visitation rights.
The evidence disclosed that Mrs. Hrusosky visited the child only once in the six years between the original placement and the date of the hearing in the cause with which we are now concerned, in December 1974. The foster mother, Mrs. Gordon, testified that Mrs. Hrusosky called twice in 1969 or 1970, once to say she could not keep another appointment for visitation, and the other time to say she did not want to see the child and to ask if the Gordons would like to adopt Melody. Other than a toy given at the time of one visitation, Mrs. Hrusosky did not send any gifts or letters to Melody during the six years of foster care prior to the hearing.
1 Defendant asserts that she as a natural parent has superior rights to custody of the child as against others (McAdams v. McAdams (4th Dist. 1964), 46 Ill. App.2d 294, 298, 197 N.E.2d 93). While we accept this general principle, it is established by the statutes of this State that the public policy, when a natural parent becomes unfit, is to terminate the parental rights and place the child for adoption (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 4, par. 9.1-1D). Recognizing the basic right of the natural parent, the courts have made it clear that such termination of parental rights can be made only by clear and convincing evidence and in strict compliance with the provisions of the Adoption Act. (In re Ybarra (1st Dist. 1975), 29 Ill. App.3d 725, 729, 331 N.E.2d 224; In re Overton (2d Dist. 1974), 21 Ill. App.3d 1014, 1018, 316 N.E.2d 201). In the instant case we find an analogy to the facts in the cases of In re Perez (1st Dist. 1973), 14 Ill. App.3d 1019, 304 N.E.2d 109, and In re Grant (1st Dist. 1975), 29 Ill. App.3d 731, 735, 331 N.E.2d 219. In these cases, a mother gave up her child shortly after its birth and showed only passing interest thereafter. (See also In re Ladewig (1st Dist. 1975), 34 Ill. App.3d 393, 340 N.E.2d 150, and In re Einbinder (1st Dist. 1975), 31 Ill. App.3d 133, 334 N.E.2d 187.)
In other cases where the appellate court reversed the trial court order terminating parental rights, the time of separation between the parent and the child was often much less than in the case before us. There were problems such as long distances between parent and child and a corresponding lack of transportation for the parent. The evidence showed in those cases an attitude of blocking visitation attempts on the part of the Department and there was usually a showing of many attempts at visitation by the parent, or at least constant inquiry by the parent as to the child's health and situation, and the regular sending of letters and presents to the child. In re Taylor (1st Dist. 1975), 30 Ill. App.3d 906, 334 N.E.2d 194; In re Ybarra (1st Dist. 1975), 29 Ill. App.3d 725, 331 N.E.2d 224; In re Overton (2d Dist. 1974), 21 Ill. App.3d 1014, 316 N.E.2d 201.
In the cause now under consideration, we do not find evidence of the above factors or any reason which would adequately excuse what appears to be a lack of concern and interest on the part of Mrs. Hrusosky. While she claimed that Department personnel rebuffed her constant efforts to see the child, the testimony of the caseworker indicated that the mother inquired about visitation only a couple of times and that she seemed more interested in having the foster parents adopt Melody. This attitude was corroborated by the recollection of the child counselor for the county, as a result of his contacts with the Hrusoskys, and also, by Mrs. Gordon's testimony, which showed very little effort by Mrs. Hrusosky to get in touch with the child.
Mrs. Hrusosky points to the February 1969 order which required her and the father of the child to avoid interfering with the guardianship, absent permission of the court or the Department. It is notable, however, that Mrs. Hrusosky made only a couple of inquiries to the Department and none to the court over the six-year period concerning visitation or modification of the court order.
2 On the basis of the evidence before the court and with a realization that an appellant must clearly show that the trial court made a determination contrary to the evidence in the case, we conclude that the decree of the Circuit Court of Will County is required to be affirmed. For the ...