Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Marsha D. Hayes, judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hourihane delivered the opinion of the court:
Following a hearing, the circuit court found respondent Marvin M. to be an unfit parent and terminated his parental rights to his two minor children, A.M. and V.M. Respondent appeals, contending that the finding that he was an unfit parent was not supported by clear and convincing evidence.
In 1991, the State filed petitions for adjudication of wardship alleging that A.M. and V.M. were neglected in that they were subjected to an injurious environment. The children were made wards of the court on January 22, 1992, and were placed in foster care with their maternal great grandmother. On September 12, 1995, the children's mother signed a consent to have the children adopted by the foster mother. The State subsequently filed a petition alleging that respondent was an unfit parent within the meaning of the Adoption Act. 750 ILCS 50/1 et. seq. (West 1996). Specifically, the State alleged that respondent failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to his children's welfare; failed to protect his children from injurious conditions within their environment; and failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of the children or to make reasonable progress toward the return of the children to him within 12 months after the adjudication of neglect.
A parental fitness hearing as to Marvin M. was held on August 20, 1996. Jackie Green, a caseworker for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), testified that she was assigned to the case between August 1991 and August 1993. She testified that Chicago Youth Center (CYC) was also assigned to the case and that Charles Martin was the caseworker from CYC. Green did not recall having any contact with respondent in 1991. The children's mother told her that respondent was incarcerated, but Green did not remember contacting him. Green added that it was the private agency's responsibility to contact respondent.
On February 11, 1992, there was an administrative case review (ACR), which respondent and Martin attended. At the ACR, parents are told the reason why the children were placed in the custody of DCFS and offered services if the parents indicate that they want their children back. The parents are also provided with the name and telephone number of the caseworker involved in the case. The service plan from that date indicated that the mother was attending parenting skills classes, with the hope of having A.M. and V.M. returned to her. The plan also indicated that respondent contacted Martin about gaining custody of his children. There was also a list of tasks to be completed as part of the service plan. The first task required CYC to coordinate weekly visits between respondent and the children at respondent's request. Respondent was also required to attend parenting skills classes, and he had specific tasks concerning his conduct during visits. Finally, the task sheet required respondent to submit to a psychological evaluation before the children were returned to him. Both the mother's and respondent's signatures appear on the first page of the service plan, and respondent indicated that he understood the tasks. Green testified that she had no knowledge that respondent completed the tasks in the service plan.
Charles Martin was the CYC caseworker assigned to the case between 1991 and 1993. He did not recall actually speaking to respondent at the February 11, 1992, ACR. Martin testified that if parents did not make themselves available for services, he would make a diligent search for them. He believed that respondent was incarcerated in mid-1992. Martin attempted to find respondent by talking to the mother and foster mother. However, he did not learn where respondent was incarcerated. Martin did not believe that respondent visited the children while he was assigned to the case because there was no indication that such visits occurred.
Randee Jemc, a CYC caseworker, was assigned to the case in August 1993. He testified that he did not know respondent's whereabouts and had no contact with respondent until June 1994. Jemc made unsuccessful attempts to locate respondent by mail. He spoke to the foster mother every month and asked if she knew respondent's whereabouts. He gave business cards to the foster mother every month to give to respondent if he contacted her. On October 1, 1993, the foster mother told Jemc that she gave respondent Jemc's business card. On December 27, 1993, the foster mother reported that respondent stopped by on Christmas Day for about an hour. On February 10, 1994, Jemc evaluated the client service plan for the period between March 1993 and February 1994. Under respondent's task section, the plan provided that respondent's needs and interest in A.M. and V.M. would be assessed by CYC upon his release from jail and the appropriate services would be offered to him. A second task was to develop a service plan for respondent when he was released from jail. In February 1994 Jemc evaluated the performance of both tasks as unsatisfactory because respondent's whereabouts were unknown.
Jemc testified that he had no contact with respondent until June 1994. On July 25, 1994, Jemc evaluated the client service plan for February through July 1994 and gave respondent an unsatisfactory evaluation for all service tasks and visitation because respondent was not cooperating with the visitation plan and had just made his whereabouts known. Jemc testified that he believed respondent may have visited the children once between August 1993 and July 1994. Jemc sent respondent a "diligent search" letter in June 1994, and respondent telephoned him on July 28, 1994. During the conversation, respondent admitted he knew who Jemc was because he had already received information on how to contact him. Jemc told respondent he needed to complete a social assessment which would determine what further services were needed. Respondent did complete the social assessment. Jemc said that parenting skills classes and a substance abuse assessment were still needed. Respondent was invited to an ACR on August 4, 1994, but respondent did not attend. At the ACR, the foster mother said that respondent came to visit the children, but brought an "entourage" of family members with him. The foster mother requested that the number of people attending the visits be limited. The service plan from that ACR indicated that respondent should visit by himself to ensure a higher quality of visitation. On August 25, 1994, there was a visit with the children scheduled, but respondent did not attend.
On September 1, 1994, Jemc left a message for respondent to schedule a meeting. During a visit on September 6, 1994, the foster mother indicated that respondent said he was not visiting the children because he thought his visiting rights had been terminated. On November 8, 1994, the foster mother told Jemc that respondent "will not visit unless his family can also visit." Jemc established phone contact with respondent in December 1994, and made a home visit with respondent on January 20, 1995. Caseworker Arlana Goodall was also present at that home visit. At that time, respondent indicated that he wanted the mother to be reunited with the children and did not want to have the children because the foster mother would be angry. Respondent did not want the great aunt to have custody of the children, and he gave Jemc the impression that if the mother could not obtain custody, he would want custody of the children.
In his February 9, 1995, evaluation, Jemc gave respondent a satisfactory rating for completing a social assessment, but an unsatisfactory rating for all other tasks. The evaluation indicated that Jemc met with respondent only once, and that respondent had visited the children only once during the reporting period. On February 21, 1995, Jemc made a second home visit with respondent, along with Goodall, in which respondent said that he was working with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) to obtain the return of one of his other children. Jemc gave respondent a telephone number for parental stress and a referral for parenting skills. Jemc also asked respondent for verification of any services that he had completed, and respondent signed consents to allow Jemc to speak with his caseworker at LSSI. Jemc did not contact LSSI to verify respondent's participation because the caseworker who succeeded him had that responsibility. Respondent first said that he did not attend the August ACR because he had car trouble. During the same visit, respondent also said that he visited the children three times each month during the summer and that he forgot about the ACR in August. Jemc's notes mentioned that respondent seemed to have "excuses." Respondent also mentioned that he had been in prison, and Jemc told him he could have arranged for visits in prison. An ACR was held on February 24, 1995, but neither the parents nor the foster mother arrived at the DCFS office until after the review was completed.
In January 1995, Goodall was assigned to the case. When she reviewed the case file, she found no indication that respondent had been involved in services with CYC or any other agency. The file indicated that respondent had visited at the foster mother's home, but that there was conflict because of the other people that respondent brought with him. Goodall was unable to determine how many times respondent visited the children between 1991 and 1995. There was no documentation of visits and she was uncertain why there was no documentation. Goodall and respondent discussed his intentions for the children's future. Respondent told Goodall that he had been visiting the children at the foster mother's residence, but the foster mother had stopped the visits because he brought too many people with him. Goodall arranged to have the visits occur at CYC. Goodall supervised a visit between respondent and the children in March 1995. Respondent brought his mother, his wife and his children to the visit. Respondent spent time playing with both children. Goodall testified that respondent completed five visits with the children between February and August 1995. She stated that the visits were scheduled once a month. Goodall stated that this rate of visitation was in compliance with the service plan. While she was assigned to the case, respondent was involved in parenting skills classes and had completed a psychological evaluation through LSSI. These services were offered to respondent to facilitate reunification with his other child, not these two children. However, Goodall did not want to duplicate the services being offered to respondent. Goodall stated that respondent never indicated to her that he had changed his intentions towards these two children.
The State published the case notes of Jeanine Jones from a September 12, 1995, court date. She noted that respondent had attended court that date, and that the termination case had been continued because respondent "plans to contest even though he realizes the children are fine where they are, however he believes that if he gives up his rights to [the children] that it will adversely affect his chances to get his son."
Audrey Church was the caseworker from November 30, 1995, until December 27, 1995. She had no contact with respondent during that time. Church unsuccessfully attempted to contact him by letter and telephone to notify him of holiday parties for the children that the children wanted him to attend. Respondent did not attend any of the children's parties. All of the letters from Church were returned, stamped "addressee unknown."
Troy Galvach testified that he was the caseworker assigned to the case since January 1996. As of February 1996, respondent had no visits with the children at CYC, and Galvach's first contact with respondent was in February. Respondent met with Galvach at an ACR. At this ACR, a new service plan was established, with visits scheduled to occur monthly on the last Tuesday of the month, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at CYC. Respondent never visited the children at CYC while Galvach was assigned to the case. At an ACR on August 7, 1996, respondent stated that he had been unable to visit the children because his mother had been ill. Respondent told Galvach that he was willing to visit either at CYC or at the foster home. Respondent said he had a problem with visits at the foster home because the foster mother did not want him to visit there. Galvach spoke with the foster mother about respondent's visits with the children, and she said that respondent visited three or four times ...