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02/23/98 C.S. v. CLEO MORREL SINGLETON AND STACY

IN THE INTEREST OF C.S., JR., A MINOR, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
CLEO MORREL SINGLETON AND STACY LYNN SINGLETON, N/K/A STACY LYNN HEINE, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Knox County No. 94J69 Honorable Gregory K. McClintock, judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann delivered the opinion of the court:

In June 1995, the trial court entered an order adjudging C.S., Jr. (C.S.) (born September 14, 1994), the minor child of respondent mother, Stacy Lynn Singleton, n/k/a Stacy Lynn Heine, and respondent father, Cleo Morrel Singleton, a neglected minor. After a September 1995 Dispositional hearing, the court formally adjudicated C.S. a ward of the court and appointed the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as his guardian with the power to place him.

In November 1996, the State filed a petition to terminate the respondents' parental rights regarding C.S. During January and March 1997, the trial court conducted hearings and found respondents to be unfit parents. In April 1997, the court conducted a Dispositional hearing and granted the State's petition to terminate their parental rights.

Respondents appeal, arguing that (1) the trial court's June 1995 order adjudicating C.S. a neglected minor and its September 1995 dispositional order are void; and (2) the court's finding of parental unfitness was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We dismiss respondent parents' appeal of the court's June 1995 and September 1995 orders and otherwise affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In June 1994, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging that respondents had neglected C.S. because (1) they did not provide the proper or necessary support or other care necessary for his well-being, including adequate food, clothing, and shelter; and (2) they created an environment injurious to his welfare. After hearings conducted from March 1995 through June 1995, the trial court entered an order adjudicating C.S. a neglected minor, pursuant to section 2-3(1) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1) (West 1994)). In September 1995, the court held a Dispositional hearing and adJudged C.S. a ward of the court, placing him in the custody and guardianship of DCFS.

At the Dispositional hearing, the trial court ordered respondents to cooperate with DCFS, participate in ongoing parenting education, and participate in counseling (including psychiatric evaluations and treatment). The court also ordered respondent father to complete a psychological evaluation and participate in any recommended treatment regarding a prior criminal sexual abuse conviction. Respondent parents' October 1995 DCFS service plan also required that they (1) cooperate with all scheduled home visits; (2) maintain a two- to three-day supply of food in their home at all times; (3) demonstrate learned parenting skills during visits with C.S.; (4) secure additional parenting information through a visitation specialist; (5) maintain their home by cleaning up animal feces and urine, taking out garbage as needed, cleaning out the litter box twice weekly, and cleaning floors daily; (6) remove untrained animals from their home; (7) establish and follow a monthly budget; and (8) maintain working utilities in their home. The service plan required respondent mother to participate in any recommended counseling and treatment to address her inability to control her anger and frustration, marital conflicts, placement of her other children, parenting skills, and self-esteem. The service plan also required respondent father to participate in any recommended treatment to address marital issues, dependency issues, parenting skills, stress, and risk of sexual abuse.

In November 1996, the State filed a petition under sections 1(D)(m) and 1(D)(p) of the Adoption Act to terminate respondents' parental rights, alleging that respondents were unfit because (1) they failed to "make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of the child from the parent, or to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child" since the June 1995 adjudication of neglect; and (2) they were unable to discharge their parental responsibilities due to mental impairment, mental illness, or mental retardation (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m), (D)(p) (West Supp. 1995)).

At the hearings on the State's petition to terminate parental rights, the evidence showed the following. Theodore Mathews, a clinical psychologist, testified that he conducted psychological evaluations of both respondent parents and found that respondent mother's intelligence was in the low-normal range but not so low as to interfere with her ability to parent C.S. Her problems as a parent were more likely to be motivational than the product of her limited intelligence. She would be unlikely to spend the energy and time necessary to care for her child over any protracted period of time.

Mathews also testified that respondent father was markedly impaired in his ability to (1) maintain attention and concentration on a child's needs for more than a short period of time, (2) work with others to provide guidance to a child without distraction from his own emotional problems, (3) respond appropriately to necessary changes in family routine, and (4) tolerate the normal stress of dealing with children in a family setting. Mathews further stated that he addressed the issue of respondent father's history of sexual abuse (with a child other than C.S.) and concluded that respondent father exhibited "little willingness *** to recognize any responsibility for the sexual abuse."

Dr. Walid Maalouli, a pediatrician, testified that C.S. was born prematurely and exhibited significant developmental delays. At the time of the hearing, C.S. continued to exhibit developmental delays and required special treatment, including physical therapy and nutritional supplements.

Laurie Jean Mackay, a family support worker at Bridgeway Family Services, testified that she worked with respondents during June 1995 through November 1996 on issues such as parenting, budgeting, adequate housing, safety, and transportation. From June 1995 until August 1995, respondent parents lived in an apartment that was roomy and neat, but "had a horrible smell." Mackay stated that on her weekly visits, she frequently noticed animal feces on the floor. Another family support worker testified about her efforts to teach respondent parents basic parenting skills and her difficulties in doing so because they usually arrived late to these sessions and respondent mother had difficulty maintaining focus.

In August 1995, respondent parents were evicted and moved to an efficiency apartment (where they lived at the time of the hearings on the petition to terminate). That apartment was infested with hundreds of roaches. The apartment did not have a kitchen sink, and at one point, respondents had a cat which used as a litter box the same bathtub used to wash dishes. Respondents also allowed dog feces to remain on the kitchen floor for over a day at a time. During the period of time when C.S. was visiting there, Mackay saw cockroaches (some of which respondents had squashed and not cleaned up) and animal feces on the floor. During the entire time Mackay worked with respondents (June 1995 until November 1996), respondents kept a variety of animals, many of which were not house-trained.

Mackay further stated that respondent mother refused to work with Mackay to establish a budget because respondent mother had a representative payee who received her Supplemental Security Income check and issued checks to her as she requested them. On several occasions, respondent mother was argumentative and physically confrontational toward Mackay (swinging her arms at Mackay numerous times and throwing an object on one occasion).

Jennifer Foster, the social worker who supervised respondents' visits with C.S. following the June 1995 adjudication order, testified that they missed about one visitation per month when visits took place at DCFS. During visits, respondents often spoke to each other and Foster about topics unconnected to C.S., and they would ignore what C.S. was doing. Respondents also had problems feeding and diapering their child.

Around March 1996, the visits were moved to respon- dents' apartment. Respondents usually were available for those visits, although they sometimes would have just awakened upon Foster's arrival with C.S. Respondent mother frequently sat on the floor with C.S. without interacting with him. During home visits, Foster noticed roaches, animal feces, and urine on the floor. Further, respondent parents were unable to adequately perform the physical therapy that C.S. required twice daily.

Through November 1996, no unsupervised visits were allowed because the home conditions were not safe enough and respondent parents were unable to maintain a visit for two hours without supervision. Foster opined that the home environment was dangerous for C.S. and respondent parents would never be able to provide the necessary care to C.S.

Jacqueline Bryant, the DCFS child welfare specialist, testified that she developed a client service plan for respondent parents following the June 1995 adjudication order. The service plan included the goals of maintaining a clean home, proper budgeting, dealing with respondent father's sexual abuse history, and dealing with respondent mother's anger problems. In October 1995, Bryant evaluated respondents' progress as unsatisfactory on all goals. In particular, respondent father denied past sexual abuse (despite the fact that he had been convicted), and respondent mother refused to seek counseling for her anger control problems.

At the Conclusion of the March 1997 hearing, the trial court found respondents to be unfit pursuant to section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West Supp. 1995)). In April 1997, the court found it was in the ...


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