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11/20/96 Y.B. v. DEBBIE C.

November 20, 1996


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois. No. 92--J--22. Honorable Stuart P. Borden, Judge, Presiding.

As Corrected December 6, 1996. Released for Publication December 23, 1996.

Present - Honorable William E. Holdridge, Presiding Justice, Honorable Michael P. Mccuskey, Justice, Honorable John F. Michela, Justice. Presiding Justice Holdridge delivered the Opinion of the Court. Michela and McCUSKEY, JJ., concurred.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Holdridge

PRESIDING JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the Opinion of the Court:

The respondent, Debbie C., appeals from orders finding her an unfit parent and terminating her parental rights. She argues that (1) parental rights to C.B. could not be terminated based on an adjudication under the "no fault" dependency provision of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987; (2) unfitness was not proved by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) the evidence failed to prove that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate her parental rights. For reasons that follow, we reverse and remand with respect to C.B. and affirm in all other respects.


On January 22, 1992, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship in two counts, alleging that the minors, Y.B., T.M., J.M. and S.P., were neglected and dependent (705 ILCS 405/2--3, 4(1)(a) (West 1992)). Debbie admitted that they were dependent as alleged in count II. Accordingly, the court entered adjudicatory and dispositional orders and directed Debbie to obtain independent housing, attend parenting classes and submit to psychological testing and counseling. The four children were made wards of the court, and guardianship was awarded to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). During the next several months, Debbie obtained a psychological evaluation, completed parenting classes and obtained a four-bedroom apartment. She also gave birth to C.B. DCFS returned the other children to her care on November 2, 1992.

On April 22, 1993, DCFS received a report indicating a risk of physical harm to Y.B. and T.M. On June 11, 1993, Debbie entered a residential treatment program for chemical dependency. She relinquished all of the children to DCFS. Four days later, the State filed a second juvenile petition alleging that C.B. was dependent pursuant to section 2--4(1)(c) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2--4(1)(c) (West 1992)). Debbie denied the petition and moved for return of all five children to her custody. Following a hearing on September 2, 1993, the court adjudicated C.B. dependent. Subsequently, on September 16, the court entered a dispositional order awarding guardianship to DCFS. The court denied Debbie's request for the return of the children, and she was directed to complete a residential substance abuse program and obtain a psychological evaluation.

In its ensuing periodic reviews, DCFS rated Debbie's progress toward the goal of reunification as unsatisfactory for failure to complete chemical dependency treatment. On June 16, 1994, the court ordered Debbie to complete all phases of chemical dependency treatment and to cooperate with DCFS and its designees. The agency's subsequent six-month reports to the court repeated allegations that Debbie had not completed chemical dependency treatment or established a stable home environment. A permanency review order was entered on October 12, 1995, in which the court found that Debbie had not made reasonable efforts to achieve the DCFS service plan and permanency goals. The court reiterated its order that Debbie complete chemical dependency treatment and cooperate with DCFS and its designees.

On October 27, 1995, the State filed a supplemental petition for termination of parental rights. In counts I and II, the State alleged that Debbie was unfit because she failed to make (1) reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for the removal of the minors, and (2) reasonable progress toward their return within 12 months of adjudication. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1994).

A hearing on the State's supplemental petition was held on January 31, February 7, and March 5, 1996. For the State, Paul Keenan, a direct service supervisor for Catholic Social Services (CSS) testified that he had been involved with the case since September of 1993. Keenan said that Debbie's service plan goals over the years included obtaining appropriate housing, counseling for anger control, chemical dependency treatment and visitation with the children. With few exceptions, Debbie's visitations were successful. Debbie lived in numerous locations throughout the period, returning often to her mother's home. After the children were returned to foster care in June of 1993, she never maintained independent housing for a period longer than six months. At the time of the hearing, Debbie had still not completed any treatment program for chemical dependency. Keenan said that Debbie had completed an intensive counseling program for managing her anger in December of 1995 and was in continuing care at the time of his testimony.

When the hearing resumed on February 7, Patricia Kennedy, Debbie's counseling therapist, testified that she had seen improvement in Debbie's anger control since October of 1995 and estimated that Debbie would need at least three more months to complete the counseling program. Kennedy acknowledged that alcohol dependency remained an unresolved problem for Debbie.

Debbie testified on her own behalf. She said that she knew she had a problem with alcohol since age 13. Although she admitted having used other drugs, including cocaine, she did not believe she had a drug problem. She stated that she drank more after the children were removed from her care. The last time she drank was around Christmas of 1995, when she had a 40-ounce bottle of beer. She reported this relapse to Patricia Kennedy. At the time of the hearing, Debbie was living at the YWCA.

At the close of all testimony, the court found that both counts of the State's supplemental petition were proved by clear and convincing ...

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