Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable William O. Maki, Judge Presiding.
As Corrected January 18, 1996.
The Honorable Justice Burke delivered the opinion of the court: Scariano, P.j., and DiVITO, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke
The Honorable Justice BURKE delivered the opinion of the court:
Respondent Bettie Jo R. appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County closing her case and terminating her wardship. On appeal, respondent contends that the circuit court: (1) improperly applied section 2-31, as amended, of the Juvenile Court Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1990, ch. 37, par. 802-31(1) (now 705 ILCS 405/2-31(1) (West 1992))), rather than the preamendment section; and (2) erred in determining that respondent's best interests no longer necessitated that her wardship continue.
On August 1, 1979, a petition for adjudication of wardship was filed in behalf of respondent when she was four years old. The trial court, upon finding probable cause to believe that respondent was neglected, appointed the Guardianship Administrator of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), as temporary guardian. On July 25, 1980, the trial court ordered that DCFS retain custody and guardianship of respondent.
On June 3, 1982, respondent's aunt filed a supplemental petition requesting that the trial court vacate its July 25, 1980, order of guardianship and appoint her as respondent's guardian. The court granted the petition on August 6, 1982. On November 17, 1988, respondent's aunt filed a second supplemental petition requesting that the trial court vacate her guardianship and reappoint DCFS as respondent's guardian because respondent was "out of her control." The trial court granted this petition on January 27, 1989. On June 19, 1992, DCFS filed a supplemental petition seeking a continuation of custody and guardianship of respondent if the court determined, after a review of respondent's present and future status, that it would be in her best interest. The record does not contain an order as to this petition, however, in August 1992, respondent was placed in the custody and guardianship of Hazel Tanner, a nonrelative.
At a permanency planning hearing regarding respondent's case on June 9, 1994, the State's Attorney, in respondent's absence, requested that the trial court close respondent's case. DCFS caseworker, Edweena Hamilton, who had been assigned to respondent's case in October 1993, presented a "Uniform Progress Report" (report) detailing respondent's progress from December 1993 to June 1, 1994. In the report, Hamilton stated the following: respondent's goal was "independence"; respondent had made "good progress" toward this goal and had adjusted well to her placement with Tanner; the whereabouts of respondent's father remained unknown and respondent's mother had not made herself available to DCFS; respondent was attending the Academy of Scholastic Achievement (ASA), working toward a high school diploma; respondent's grades from ASA were not available at the time the report was completed; respondent had a one-year-old daughter who attended day care at ASA while respondent was in class; and DCFS provided respondent's tuition for the spring/summer program at ASA. Hamilton concluded her report by recommending that "[respondent's] case be continued for further progress reporting."
Hamilton also testified that respondent was 19 years old and currently in school, she was doing well in her placement with Tanner and she was doing well in school. While Hamilton had initially written in the report that respondent's case should be continued, Hamilton now felt that if respondent's case were closed, respondent would be able to maintain her goal of independence. When Hamilton was asked whether she believed it would be in respondent's best interest to close her case, Hamilton replied, "Yes." On cross-examination, Hamilton stated that DCFS paid for respondent's tuition at ASA and that respondent's child received on-site day care at ASA while respondent was in class. With respect to respondent's financial resources should her case be closed, the following colloquy occurred:
"Q. [assistant Public Guardian, respondent's counsel]: Do you know how Bettie Jo would pay for school if she wasn't receiving money from DCFS and the case was closed?
A. [Hamilton]: There are programs available to her out there that she could apply for that. I could direct her to [them] if the case was closed.
Q. Would she be accepted to those programs? Do you know? Are you speculating that she can get money?
A. I'm speculating that she probably would be accepted."
After hearing this evidence, the trial court, relying on subsection (1) of section 2-31 of the Act, as amended, effective July 24, 1991 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1990, ch. 37, par. 802-31(1) (now 705 ILCS 405/2-31(1) (West 1992))), stated that "pursuant to statute these cases are to be automatically closed at age 19 unless the Court finds good cause why they should remain open. There has been no evidence offered to suggest a reason to keep this case open." Respondent's counsel then voiced an objection to the court's application of the amended statute, arguing that preamendment section 2-31, providing for the automatic termination of the wardship of a minor at age 21, should be applied instead. In reply to this objection, the trial court stated that "the statute ...