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June 15, 1995


Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County. No. 93J139. Honorable William D. DeCardy, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected July 19, 1995.

Justices: Honorable Carl A. Lund, J., Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J., Honorable John T. McCULLOUGH, J. Justice Lund delivered the opinion of the court: Steigmann and McCULLOUGH, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lund

JUSTICE LUND delivered the opinion of the court:

Respondent Jennifer Travelstead-Cummings appeals an order of the circuit court of McLean County finding her to be an unfit parent and terminating her parental rights to her son, J.T.C. We affirm the finding of unfitness, reverse the termination of parental rights, and remand for a new hearing on that issue.

Respondent gave birth to J.T.C. in March 1989, two days after her fifteenth birthday. In February 1991, petitions were filed in Logan County alleging that respondent was a dependent minor (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 37, par. 802-4(1)(a)) and that J.T.C. was a neglected minor by reason of an injurious environment (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 37, par. 802-3(1)(b)). By stipulation, respondent was adjudicated a dependent minor, J.T.C. was adjudicated a neglected minor, and they were placed together in foster care. At a review hearing in June 1991, it was stated to the court that since respondent was not home to care for J.T.C., he was placed in foster care elsewhere. At a review hearing in October 1991, it was represented to the court by the prosecutor that respondent had become involved in a drinking episode with a convicted felon who had abused her. She was ordered to exercise more discretion in her choice of friends, maintain employment, submit to a drug and alcohol evaluation, pursue a general equivalency diploma (GED), and participate in counseling. Limited contact with J.T.C. was also ordered.

The case was transferred to McLean County in August 1993. In August 1994, a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights was filed on the grounds that she had failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for J.T.C.'s removal from her custody and that she had failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of J.T.C. to her within 12 months of his adjudication of neglect. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1992).

At the hearing on the petition in November 1994, Justine Wheeler, caseworker at Youth Services of Mid-Illinois, testified that she has been J.T.C.'s primary counselor for the past year and has had only occasional contact with respondent. There had been some problems in J.T.C.'s foster home and in school, which led to a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. He had just started taking medication for this condition that very day. It would take a very patient, skilled person to be able to care for a child of this nature. She had not yet spoken to respondent about J.T.C.'s problems. Respondent's service plan goals have been to obtain counseling, maintain stable employment and housing, and obtain a drug and alcohol evaluation. She supervised two visits between respondent and J.T.C. over the last three months when the family specialist was unable to do it. Each visit lasted one hour. There was positive interaction between respondent and J.T.C. at both visits. Respondent disciplined J.T.C. appropriately both times and talked to him about the importance of school and good behavior. Wheeler and respondent discussed respondent's unstable housing situation during both visitations.

Susan Azukas, family specialist for respondent and J.T.C., testified that her function is to supervise visits and assist the parents in meeting their service plan goals. She has been working with respondent for approximately two years. She has seen her on a weekly basis for the visits and, also, on a one-on-one basis. She has rated respondent's compliance with all her service plan goals as unsatisfactory. She had made several appointments for respondent for her drug and alcohol evaluation, and respondent kept only one of those appointments. She did not complete the full assessment. Respondent has admitted using marijuana and alcohol. Azukas has attempted since March 1993 to assist respondent in locating employment but, to her knowledge, respondent has had only two jobs since March 1993. Neither job lasted more than a few days. She had a job at a fast food restaurant at one time that lasted three weeks. She did not assist respondent in determining what jobs she might be qualified for or help her establish any job skills. Respondent did initiate some employment on her own, but did not follow through by keeping the jobs. Since 1993, she has also attempted to assist respondent in obtaining stable housing through public aid and township assistance. Part of the problem with obtaining township assistance is that respondent was required to be employed. She did not work with respondent on her GED goal, but respondent is now enrolled in the classes. As to visitation, there was a two-month period during June and July 1993 when respondent missed all her visits with J.T.C. She did not want to be out in the community due to an outstanding arrest warrant. She never called to advise why she missed these visits or any other visits. For the past six months, she has been more regular in her visitation. She contacted J.T.C. by telephone on his birthdays and has brought him gifts. Despite progress made by respondent in her visits, Azukas still rates visitation as unsatisfactory because respondent still misses visits and does not call in advance. In addition, there is no planned activity for the visits. However, Azukas conceded there was not much that could be done in a one-hour visit.

Lara Hawks, caseworker for respondent and J.T.C. from October 1993 through February 1994, testified that she saw respondent about every other week. Her service plan goals were the same throughout the case. Respondent admitted to an alcohol addiction, but indicated she believed talking about her past would not help with her current problems. Respondent was rated unsatisfactorily in all her goals. Hawks offered to take respondent to seek employment and to obtain her drug and alcohol assessment, but respondent did not follow up. Respondent did not keep Hawks informed as to her living arrangements. She does know that respondent lived in at least three different places during the four months she was involved in the case.

Eric Hardison, respondent's counselor, testified that after respondent's evaluation it was recommended that she receive counseling. She was referred to him for an evaluation because of a concern that she might be suffering from depression. She was also angry and had impulsive behaviors. His findings were that she was not depressed, but her relationship with males was a matter of concern. She had a good level of intelligence and could have done well in school if her education not been interrupted. She attended 20 counseling sessions between the fall of 1991 and spring of 1992. He recommended she continue counseling, but she did so on only a sporadic basis. She failed to keep several appointments and did not call in advance to cancel.

Respondent, age 20, testified that she agreed the goals set in her client service plan were appropriate. When asked why she had not achieved those goals, respondent replied:

"Well, there's a lot of--I have another life besides just [J.T.C.]. They came in my home, and they took him and they separated us so that--that gave me--I mean he has started a new life, and I had a responsibilities [sic] outside of just what [J.T.C.] needs me to do to take care of. And there was things that I was going through and things that--positions I was in--I mean there just wasn't--"

Respondent testified that she has not attended any of her GED classes recently, but she is enrolled. Although she has been busy trying to obtain housing through township assistance, she has not succeeded thus far and does not know when she will have it. She is not currently employed and has not worked since August or September 1994. She is registered with Job Service and Kelly Temporary Services, and she made two job applications within the last week. She was married in September, and she and her husband are living with friends. Although her husband would be receptive to having J.T.C. live with them, she believes it would be difficult because they are both so young and it might take him some time to adjust to having J.T.C. in the home. She denied ever admitting to an alcohol problem. Since August 30, 1994, she has lived three ...

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