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08/29/89 In Re J.W.

August 29, 1989



Petitioner-Appellee, v.

Lisa Williams, Respondent-Appellant)

543 N.E.2d 974, 187 Ill. App. 3d 988, 135 Ill. Dec. 406 1989.IL.1332

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Peter F. Costa, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE SCARIANO delivered the opinion of the court. BILANDIC, P.J., and HARTMAN, J., concur.


Following a bench trial, respondent, J.'s mother, was found unfit, her parental rights were terminated and a guardian authorized to consent to adoption was appointed. She now appeals, raising the following issues: (1) whether she should be required to follow her various service plans when those service plans did not comply with statutory guidelines; (2) whether she was proved to be an unfit parent by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) whether the trial court improperly considered evidence relating to J.'s best interest in making his decision as to respondent's unfitness.

J., born May 10, 1982, was first removed from respondent's custody in July 1983, when he was 15 months old, after his mother beat him about the head. He was subsequently returned to respondent in May 1984. Shortly thereafter, respondent left J. at her mother's home and, after she failed to call for him, respondent's mother contacted the Department of Children and Family Services (hereinafter DCFS). On May 25, 1984, a petition for adjudication of wardship was filed, alleging that J. was neglected and abandoned due in part to the mental disability of his mother. After an adjudication of wardship, the Department of Children and Family Services placed J. with the Travis family in a foster home supervised by Central Baptist Family Services (Central Baptist). J. continues to live with the Travises. On January 28, 1985, the court entered a finding of neglect, on May 25, 1985, a petition to appoint a guardian with the right to place J. was granted, and on July 9, 1986, a petition to appoint a guardian with the right to consent to adoption was filed. A default judgment was entered against J.'s father, and the following evidence was presented at the hearing on the petition.

Michael Brady, a social worker with Central Baptist, testified that he first became involved with J. in October 1984, and worked on his case until May 1985. From June 1984 to August 1984 respondent's "whereabouts were unknown." Brady continued working with the service plan created by DCFS in June 1984, under which respondent was to work towards three goals: (1) engage in regular visitation; (2) establish a working relationship with her caseworker; and (3) participate in counseling at Greater Oak Lawn Mental Health Center. In December 1984 Brady established a new service plan, with the "overall goal to reunite mother with child." Intermediate goals were to initiate regular visitation, to participate in counseling at Greater Oak Lawn Mental Health Center, to establish a relationship with the Central Baptist social worker, to work more cooperatively with Central Baptist, and to divulge her address so that Central Baptist could assess her current living situation. Brady testified that the entire service plan was explained to respondent.

Respondent was to visit J. in Central Baptist's offices "at least once a month," in a room "conducive to interaction," with a couch, toys, books and other activities. She made the five visits she scheduled from December 1984 through June 1985; however, Brady characterized the quality of her visits as "poor." Rather than interacting with J., respondent spent much of the time talking with Brady about her own case. Brady would attempt to direct respondent's attention to J., but respondent insisted upon talking with Brady. Brady also stated that he did not feel respondent had developed a working relationship with him, as representative of Central Baptist, because she would not reveal her address, and thus he had to rely on her phoning him to arrange a visit, and on a number of occasions she became "very angry and hostile on the phone," used abusive language and hung up. Additionally, respondent did not participate in counseling, which was required because of a diagnosis that she "was schizophrenic, undifferentiated type, with strong paranoid features."

On cross-examination, Brady stated that respondent was very interested in seeing her clinical evaluation, but he informed her that it was confidential and he could not share it with her. When talking with respondent about the importance of counseling, "she would become very defiant, and she would frequently say 'I am not crazy.'" With regard to visitation, Brady testified that he attempted to establish a regular visitation schedule, but because he had to wait for respondent to contact him, visitation remained on a monthly basis.

Tracey Livingston, a foster care worker at Central Baptist, worked with J.'s case from June 1985 to June 1986. After six-month case reviews, she devised two service plans for respondent, with the goals of maintaining regular visitation with J., engaging in therapy on a regular basis, maintaining adequate housing and disclosing her address to Central Baptist. Respondent made nine visits during the period June 1985 to June 1986, the general quality of which Livingston described as poor. According to Livingston, respondent did not know how to interact appropriately with J., and she was more interested in talking with Livingston about her own case. Livingston suggested that respondent arrive 30 minutes in advance of the scheduled visit, so that they could discuss her service plan and any other issues, after which respondent could then direct her full attention to J. when he arrived. But respondent did not follow through on this offer. Visits were often cancelled, because respondent would fail to call the day before to confirm that she was coming. At some point, respondent expressed a desire to visit twice a month, and Livingston agreed. Visits were never longer than an hour, however, because the visits "were pretty upsetting" to both respondent and J., and extending them would not have been in their best interest.

Livingston testified that respondent attended North Rogers Park Mental Health Center in December 1985 for an "intake," but she attended only once, and her case was then closed. She initiated contact with Northtown Rogers Park in February 1986 and "attended sporadically" until May 1986, attending 7 out of 12 appointments. In May 1986, her contact left Northtown and, because there was no further contact from respondent, her case was closed. According to Livingston, respondent did not consistently participate in therapy, even though she attended appointments, because she was not actively taking part and working towards treatment goals. Livingston stated that respondent was "very preoccupied with seeing her psychological evaluation." During this time, respondent continued to refuse to disclose her address.

Mary Wehrle, a clinical therapist at Northtown Rogers Park Mental Health Center, first came into contact with respondent on December 30, 1986. Respondent was to attend weekly sessions, which she did for five weeks. Wehrle encouraged respondent to attend parenting classes, as required in her service plan, but respondent refused, maintaining that she had no problem with her children. According to Wehrle, respondent had "a strong tendency to blame others for her problems." On February 2, 1987, respondent informed Wehrle that she "wanted a therapist who would agree with her that the abuse and neglect charges were all lies." Wehrle would not agree to this, and, as a consequence, they did not meet again until March 27, 1987, when Wehrle told respondent that she would have to attend four parenting classes before she could continue counseling. The reason Wehrle gave for this was that respondent "was not able to identify any material herself to work on regarding herself and her relationship with her son," and that the classes "might enable her to understand the nature of the problem"; Wehrle also felt that, rather than continuing to discuss respondent's denial, it was time to do something about it. Respondent refused to attend the classes. In Wehrle's opinion, "there was [no] successful outcome in the therapy in terms of seeking the classes or making a plan to provide a structured home, or to addressing [respondent's] basically emotional situation between herself and her child."

According to Wehrle, a psychiatrist with Northtown rejected the diagnosis that respondent was a paranoid schizophrenic, saying there was no evidence of psychosis. Respondent informed Wehrle that she ...

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