APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. THE HONORABLE HARRY B. ARON, JUDGE PRESIDING.
Scariano, Hartman, McCORMICK
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scariano
JUSTICE SCARIANO delivered the opinion of the court:
Respondent Lester Baldwin, Sr. appeals from the trial court's finding that he is an unfit person based on his failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility regarding the welfare of his three children. See 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 1993). He maintains that the trial court's finding was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Two of respondent's children, T.D. (Trissie) and L.B., Jr. (Lester), were born in 1987. Trissie was born at home on December 24, 1987, weighing one pound, 11 ounces. Shortly after the birth, her mother, Irma Durdin, went to the hospital where it was discovered that she was still pregnant, but she refused to remain hospitalized. However, she returned on January 3, 1988, and gave birth to Trissie's twin, Lester, on January 6, 1988. Lester weighed two pounds, eight ounces, and had traces of PCP and cocaine in his system. The babies remained hospitalized until April 1988.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) subsequently petitioned for adjudication of wardship and was awarded temporary custody of the twins. DCFS entered the case because the drugs found in Lester's system indicated that his mother had used drugs in violation of an order of protection issued in regard to her two older children. *fn1 (See 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(c) (defining a neglected minor as "any newborn infant whose blood or urine contains any amount of a controlled substance * * * or a metabolite of such substances * * *.") DCFS did not allege that respondent was neglectful.
In December 1991, DCFS petitioned for appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to adoption for the twins and I.D. (Irma), their sister, who had been born in 1989. Before the children could be placed for adoption without their parents' consent, a court would have to find respondent and Durdin unfit by clear and convincing evidence. (750 ILCS 50/8(a)(1) (West 1993).) DCFS alleged that respondent was unfit because he had failed to show a reasonable amount of interest, concern or responsibility regarding the welfare of his three children. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 1993).
At the fitness hearing, *fn2 Wendy Nussbaum of the Ray Graham Agency (the Agency) testified that when Trissie and Lester were released from the hospital, DCFS placed them with the Agency, which in turn placed them with their foster mother with whom they still reside. Between April 1988, when the children were placed with the Agency, and April 1992, respondent did not contact the Agency to arrange for visitation. The Agency is not responsible for arranging visits with parents and thus made no attempt to reach respondent.
Addo Carpenter, a DCFS social worker, testified that he was initially in charge of the case involving respondent's children. He first spoke with respondent on March 13, 1988, the day before a court hearing regarding the children. Carpenter informed respondent that his children had been removed from their mother's custody and that he needed to appear in court to claim paternity. Respondent appeared in court, claimed paternity of the twins, and expressed his desire that his mother obtain custody of the children.
On April 8, 1988, Carpenter visited respondent at his mother's home, where he lived. He told respondent that he was entitled to weekly visitation and gave him his card and telephone number; he also informed respondent that he had a right to DCFS services if he wished to obtain custody of the children. Carpenter further informed respondent that the children could not be placed in his mother's custody while he lived there. Carpenter's conversation with respondent ended abruptly when respondent became angry and left the room after being told that his mother could not have custody.
On April 29, 1988, the first case review was held in the absence of both parents. Following the case review, Carpenter established a service plan containing one objective for respondent--that he "will again be offered services as needed including visitation rights." Carpenter recalled encountering respondent on the street sometime in the summer of 1988, at which time, he gave respondent the Agency's address and phone number and informed him that DCFS would facilitate visitation with his children. Respondent did not contact DCFS following this meeting. On cross-examination, Carpenter admitted that he had no record of this conversation.
In October 1988, the court held another case review. Carpenter testified that he knew respondent was incarcerated at that time, but he was unsure where. Because of this uncertainty, he sent a notification letter to his mother's address. On cross-examination, when shown his April 1989 review, Carpenter acknowledged that it stated that respondent had been in Cook County jail since September 1988.
Carpenter telephoned respondent's mother in March 1989 in an effort to locate respondent, but she did not know where he was incarcerated or what his inmate number was. Carpenter testified that he also phoned certain other relatives of respondent in an unsuccessful effort to locate him. Carpenter sent notice of the next case review, scheduled for April 1989, to respondent's mother's home.
Prior to the next case review, on March 22, 1989, Irma, respondent's third child, was born with traces of PCP and cocaine in her system. DCFS petitioned for adjudication of wardship and was granted custody of Irma on March 29, 1989. Respondent apparently claimed paternity of Irma in 1989. She was placed ...