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In re J.G.

August 17, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Garman


Appeal from Circuit Court of Adams County No. 95J24

Honorable Chet W. Vahle, Judge Presiding.

Following hearings in the circuit court of Adams County, orders were entered finding respondent Natasha Gray to be an unfit parent and terminating her parental rights. She now appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred in finding her unfit and terminating her parental rights and (2) the trial court erred in taking judicial notice of the case file, which contained reports of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), without making the requisite findings under section 2-18(4)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-18(4)(a) (West 1996)). We affirm.

J.G. was born in November 1993. He was removed from respondent's home in February 1995 after reports from witnesses who observed respondent handle J.G. very roughly, pulling his arm, biting him on the back of the head, and carrying him by one arm across a room. In addition, J.G. was found to have bruises on his buttocks. He was placed in shelter care and adjudicated a neglected minor on April 12, 1995. The trial court returned J.G. to respondent's care. She was ordered to not allow any contact between J.G. and Darryl Morse, who was respondent's boyfriend and a convicted felon. Her various service plans required her to attend parenting classes, attend regular visitation with J.G., and use appropriate parenting skills, provide a clean and healthy living environment for J.G., obtain her high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED), and attend counseling.

In July 1995, J.G. was removed from respondent's home and placed in foster care due to a temporary inability to locate him and respondent.

On April 7, 1997, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights on the grounds that she had failed to correct the conditions that were the basis for J.G.'s removal and that she had failed to make reasonable progress toward J.G.'s return to her within 12 months of his adjudication. Hearings were held on this petition in July 1997. At the commencement of the hearing, the prosecutor asked the trial court to take judicial notice of the court file in the case. Defense counsel objected to the court taking judicial notice of any DCFS reports in the file. The basis of his objection was that such reports contained hearsay that is not admissible in a termination hearing. The prosecutor pointed out that there had been court reviews of respondent's case every six months and that respondent was present for each of these hearings. She therefore had the opportunity to read the reports and object to them or correct them. The trial court overruled the objection on that basis, noting it would be a legal fiction to ignore the contents of the case file in which the court had been involved for over two years. However, the court later modified its ruling to state that it would not consider any evidence that appeared to be unreliable and that respondent did not have an opportunity to controvert previously.

Jim Prow, a counselor to whom respondent was referred by DCFS in 1995, testified that he met with her on one occasion in November 1995. Several previous appointments had been scheduled, which respondent failed to keep. They were to work on anger control and parenting skills regarding how to discipline J.G. He made another appointment for respondent, but he never saw her again. No progress was made during the initial interview on either of these goals because that time is used to gather information about a patient and establish a rapport with her.

Tracy Prow, an outpatient therapist at Transitions of Western Illinois, testified that respondent was referred to her in 1996 by Chaddock Center for Family Development (Chaddock) to address issues of parenting, self-esteem, and anger control. They had several sessions, at which respondent expressed some resentment against DCFS and Chaddock. Respondent indicated that she had attended a parenting class and she thought that was enough. Prow did not ask for, or see, any certificate of completion of such a class. She did not see respondent between April 1996 and January 1997. Several appointments were made during that time, but respondent did not appear.

Robin Martin, a parent educator for Family Service Agency, testified that she runs a program called Family Life Education Program (FLEP). Respondent was referred to this program three different times. FLEP is a parenting class, consisting of 15 weeks of group counseling and 15 weeks of individual counseling. Anyone who misses more than two sessions is dropped from the program. The first time respondent was in the program was in November 1995. She attended one session and was dropped from the program that same month. The second referral came in March 1996. Respondent was dropped from the program in April 1996 for missing too many sessions. In July 1996, respondent was again referred to FLEP. Martin made efforts to contact respondent, sending several letters and leaving a note on her door that a driver would pick her up on the day of the class. Martin never heard from respondent. Martin attended one visitation session with respondent in which respondent put a jelly bean in her mouth and then passed it to J.G.'s mouth with her tongue.

Martin stated that respondent was advised of the importance of completing the parenting classes in order to have J.G. returned to her. Respondent told Martin that she had completed a parenting class at Parenting Pals, but Martin did not see any proof of that. Martin believes respondent needed parenting classes. She did not have a cooperative attitude, telling Martin that she would raise her child in the manner she wanted to raise him.

Mary Schutte, J.G.'s foster parent from July 1995 to December 1996, testified that during the time she had J.G., he would kick, bite, and throw things. The first year he lived with Schutte, he would kick, scream, throw toys, fight, and pull hair when he returned from visitation. At times, respondent would call Schutte a "bitch" and other offensive names when she called on the telephone to talk to J.G. She accused Schutte of trying to keep J.G. from her. Respondent sometimes bought clothes for J.G. that were either too large or too small. After visitations, J.G. would be very agitated and difficult to manage. He had difficulty sleeping on those nights. However, he looked forward to the visits.

Linda Richmiller, visitation specialist with Bridgeway Family Services, testified that she supervised some of respondent's visits with J.G. She and Shelly Lewis from Chaddock took turns supervising. During a visit on Halloween in 1995, Richmiller took J.G. to respondent's apartment so she could see him in his Halloween costume. Respondent referred to J.G. as "her sexy man." When she changed his diaper, she said, "[M]ommy is going to get you" and pulled on J.G.'s penis several times. Another time, when Richmiller and J.G. arrived for visitation, Darryl Morse was in respondent's bed. During the same visit, respondent struck J.G. hard on the hand because he would not leave his coat on. Richmiller informed respondent several times that she was scaring J.G. and needed to change her attitude. Respondent replied that she would do what she wanted.

No third parties were to be present during visitations unless Richmiller was given prior notice; however, many times, there would be other people in the apartment when she and J.G. arrived for visitations. On one occasion, there were six people sleeping in the apartment when they arrived.

Respondent did not properly supervise J.G. during visits at Richmiller's office. He would run into other rooms and take things off desks. In order to get him out of there, respondent would tell him there were monsters in those rooms.

Richmiller also testified that on several occasions during visits at respondent's apartment she would spend a lot of time on the telephone. She accepted collect calls from her boyfriend and others who were in jail, and she also called other ...

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