APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, SECOND DISTRICT
State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v.
Valerie Allen, Respondent-Appellant)
527 N.E.2d 647, 172 Ill. App. 3d 950, 123 Ill. Dec. 184 1988.IL.1216
Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County; the Hon. Ward S. Arnold, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court. DUNN and REINHARD, JJ., concur.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE INGLIS
Respondent, Valerie Allen, mother of Bobby Allen, Jr., and Rudy Allen, appeals from orders of the circuit court of McHenry County terminating her parental rights and authorizing the guardianship administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to consent to the minors' adoption. Respondent contends that the trial court's decision was not supported by clear and convincing evidence. Although the orders appealed from apply to the minors' natural father also, we note that he is not a party to this appeal. We affirm.
On March 10, 1987, the State filed its petitions to terminate the parental rights of respondent and appoint DCFS as legal guardian of the minors with the power to consent to their adoption. Bobby and Rudy had previously been adjudicated to be neglected minors and wards of the court. Bobby had first been adjudicated a neglected minor in November 1981. In November 1983, the State again sought to have both Bobby and Rudy adjudicated neglected minors. At that time respondent stipulated that (1) on or about October 21, 1983, the minors were observed to be uncared for and dirty; (2) on or about October 21, 1983, the only food present in the motel room where the minors were residing with respondent and their natural father consisted of three-quarters of a loaf of bread, a small quantity of peanut butter, and two to three ounces of Kool-Aid; (3) as of November 1, 1983, township funding for the minors' family to pay for the motel room was terminated and the minors' parents were unable to provide or plan for the minors' support; and (4) as of November 2, 1983, the minors' parents were unable to provide adequate food and shelter for the minors in that they were evicted from the motel in which they were residing. On December 21, 1983, the court entered orders finding Bobby and Rudy to be neglected minors and wards of the court. Bobby and Rudy were placed in foster care and have remained in that capacity throughout these proceedings.
In its subsequent petitions to terminate respondent's parental rights, the State alleged that respondent was unfit in that she had failed to (1) maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility for the minors' welfare; (2) make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for removing the minors and make reasonable progress toward the return of the minors within 12 months of their being adjudicated neglected; and (3) maintain reasonable contact with the minors within 12 months of their being adjudicated neglected. The court held a hearing on the State's petitions in July 1987. At that hearing, the State introduced the testimony of two social workers from Central Baptist Family Services who were familiar with the Allen case and who worked with respondent in an attempt to obtain the return of her children. According to these witnesses, CBFS social workers prepared seven client service plans for respondent from the time the minors were removed to the time of the hearing. These plans consisted of tasks respondent was required to complete to demonstrate her ability to parent her children properly. The tasks were determined by the circumstances surrounding the removal of the children, and respondent's progress was evaluated every six months. The tasks of all of these plans were substantially the same and provided that respondent obtain and maintain employment, obtain and maintain housing suitable for the minors, attend counseling, attend scheduled visitations with the minors, and cooperate with the social workers. The first of respondent's service plans was prepared on December 5, 1983. At the end of the first six-month period, respondent had not obtained employment or housing suitable for the minors and had not begun counseling. However, respondent did attend scheduled visitations with her children. At the end of the second six-month period, respondent had obtained employment and had continued with her scheduled visitations; however, she had not obtained housing suitable for the minors and had not begun counseling.
Respondent maintained her employment and continued with visitations throughout the duration of her involvement with CBFS. With respect to her attempts to find housing suitable for the minors, the record indicates that respondent moved eight times. One social worker testified that none of her choices were suitable for the minors, and another testified that one of her choices would have been suitable had she remained. Respondent told Jean Sowa, one of her social workers, that she was financially unable to find adequate housing. Sowa arranged for respondent to have budget counseling; however, respondent terminated her relationship with the budget counselor after a short period. Sowa acknowledged that respondent was on the waiting list for public housing in McHenry County. Sowa further acknowledged that she accompanied respondent to attempt to secure housing at seven locations, and that respondent was unable to secure housing because she was ineligible, could not afford it, or had bad credit. Respondent began counseling in October 1985 and attended five sessions. Respondent terminated those sessions in June 1986, because she did not believe they were helping her and she was uncomfortable using a male counselor. Although respondent was provided with the name of a female counselor, she did not contact that person and resume counseling sessions until September 1986. At that time, respondent was under court order to resume counseling. Respondent subsequently attended 11 sessions with her new counselor; however, Sowa testified that the counselor's report indicates that respondent has not taken responsibility for her situation and has not made full use of the counseling sessions.
At the Conclusion of the State's case, the trial court entered a directed finding in favor of respondent as to that portion of the petitions alleging that respondent was unfit for failure to maintain contact with the minors. Respondent then testified on her own behalf. Respondent testified that she lives in a motel room and has been at that location for eight months preceding the hearing. She has been employed with the same company for two years and is working the night shift at an hourly wage of $6.27. Respondent has a net weekly income of approximately $180, and acknowledged having approximately $135 in bills per week. She pays $99.75 per week for her motel room. Respondent testified that she is trying to satisfy her debts and is unable to save. Respondent stated that she has $5 in a bank account. Respondent further stated that she is using her money to pay back debts owing to her mother and friends. Respondent acknowledged that she has been unsuccessful in locating affordable housing suitable for the minors. Respondent stated that the least expensive housing she could find rented for $425 per month plus utilities. Respondent acknowledged that she confined her search to Woodstock, Illinois, because she relies on public transportation and does not have a driver's license or a car; however, respondent represented at oral argument that her search extended to other communities as well. Respondent's most recent attempt to secure housing involved searching for an apartment to share with her brother. Respondent stated that these efforts were unsuccessful due to a reluctance on the part of landlords to rent to an unmarried couple. Respondent also testified that she has maintained her visitations with the minors, has attempted to give them gifts, and carries insurance on them through her employer. Respondent stated that she has obtained a divorce from the minors' natural father and intends to file for bankruptcy in order to reform her financial situation. Respondent represented at oral argument that she has in fact filed for and been discharged from bankruptcy.
At the Conclusion of the hearing, the court ruled that the State failed to sustain its burden on that portion of the petitions alleging that respondent was unfit because she failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern and responsibility for the minors' welfare. However, the court found that the State sustained its burden as to that portion of the State's petitions concerning respondent's failure to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for removal and make reasonable progress toward return of the children. The court noted that respondent failed to use the means available to her to rehabilitate her situation and any efforts on her part were the result of threatened legal action or court order. The court therefore ruled that respondent was an unfit parent pursuant to section 1(m) of the Illinois Adoption Act (Adoption Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 40, par. 1501(m)), stating:
"It is my opinion, based upon clear and convincing evidence, that Valerie Allen has demonstrated no movement toward the goal of reunification or made reasonable efforts to correct the reasons which were the ...