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In re M.M. and J.M.

March 10, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 96--J--054 Honorable Thomas E. Mueller, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

The respondent, C.S., appeals from an order of the trial court finding her to be an unfit parent, terminating her parental rights, and granting the State the power to consent to the adoption of the respondent's minor children, M.M. and J.M. We affirm.

On April 29, 1996, the State filed a petition for adjudication of neglect and abuse. On May 9, 1996, the State filed an amended petition alleging that both of C.S.'s children, M.M. and J.M., born February 22, 1992, and May 12, 1996, respectively, were abused in that C.S. and her then-boyfriend Steve S. inflicted or allowed to be inflicted upon the children physical injury. More specifically, the petition alleged that J.M. had burns on her back and both children had cuts and bruises on their bodies. The State named C.S., the children's mother, and Arthur H., the named father of the children, as respondents to the petition. On October 31, 1996, C.S. and Arthur stipulated to these allegations, and the trial court found J.M. and M.M. to be abused minors, made them wards of the court, and placed them under the custody and guardianship of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). C.S. and Steve later married.

On March 22, 1998, the State filed a petition seeking the termination of the parental rights of both C.S. and Arthur. The petition alleged that C.S. was an unfit parent for the following reasons: (1) failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to her children's welfare under section 1(D)(b) of the Adoption Act (the Act) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 1996)); (2) an inability to discharge her parental responsibilities, due to mental impairment, mental illness, or mental retardation, with sufficient justification to believe her inability to discharge those duties would extend beyond a reasonable time period under section 1(D)(p) of the Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 1996)); and (3) failure to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the children's removal from their home or to make reasonable progress toward the children's return within 12 months of the adjudicatory order under section 1(D)(m) of the Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1996)).

At the hearing on the petition, Jim Rimkus, an investigator with the Division of Child Protective Services, testified that, pursuant to certain allegations made on April 22, 1996, he conducted several investigations with respect to J.M. and M.M. Rimkus stated that both children were filthy, had an offending odor, were infested with head lice, had numerous cuts, bruises and welts inflicted upon them by C.S. and Steve, and had inadequate shelter. During another investigation Rimkus confirmed that J.M. had severe burns on her back caused by C.S. and Steve and that both children were again suffering from numerous other bruises. When Rimkus visited the home on May 8, 1996, the children were filthy, smelly, infested with head lice, and suffered from numerous injuries on various parts of their bodies. C.S. told Rimkus that J.M. had been scalded by bath water and that M.M.'s bruises occurred when M.M. "fell off the wall." Rimkus took the children into protective custody at that time.

Laura Harris, a DCFS caseworker, testified that a May 1996 client service plan addressed C.S.'s need to work on parenting skills, obtain a psychological examination, engage in supervised visits with her children, and procure adequate counseling. Harris stated that by January 1997 C.S. and Steve had participated in the services offered to them, C.S. had completed a psychological evaluation, and the couple moved into a one-bedroom apartment. The apartment was in very bad condition and littered with debris. Despite these problems, Harris evaluated C.S.'s progress as satisfactory.

Between January and April 1997, Harris visited C.S.'s home on numerous occasions and concluded that the home was dangerous to small children. The home was filled with debris and numerous bugs and had a foul smell. Further, a mouse was running through the apartment. C.S. explained to Harris that the mouse ate the roaches. According to Harris, C.S. did not see any problem with her housekeeping and was unresponsive to Harris's suggestions; despite Harris's encouragement and advice, the situation became worse. However, in July 1997, Harris rated C.S.'s progress as satisfactory.

Harris testified that during supervised visits C.S. was very passive and did not interact with her children. Rather, Steve took the entire responsibility for disciplining and interacting with them. Harris stated that she had trouble engaging C.S. in conversations. When Harris asked her questions, C.S. "would just sit there and stare." M.M. told Harris that he was afraid when he visited his mother because there were bugs in his hair. In October 1997, C.S. and Steve began unsupervised visits with the children. Shortly after these began, Harris observed bruises on J.M.'s arms and large bumps on M.M.'s head. Neither C.S. nor Steve could explain how these injuries occurred. In addition to the injuries, the children exhibited bad behavior at their foster home and fear and anxiety over the visits. J.M. refused to visit her mother; J.M. cried and hid in her room before the scheduled visits. M.M. began to wet his bed, and a therapist indicated that he was having severe stress reactions after visits. At this point, the unsupervised visits ended.

In January 1998, Harris evaluated C.S.'s progress as unsatisfactory. Harris stated that the home was not safe, the visits were deteriorating, C.S.'s cooperation with the DCFS was poor, and C.S.'s progress in therapy was unsatisfactory. According to Harris, between January 1998 and March 1998, the conditions in C.S.'s home became worse. The home was littered with so much debris that one could not walk without hurting oneself, and the smell was intolerable, most likely due to the numerous pets kept in unclean cages in the apartment.

Harris opined that when she first met C.S. and Steve their parenting skills were at the lowest level she had ever seen. They made some progress in the first year, but, after the unsupervised visits began, things deteriorated a great deal. After the petition for termination was filed in March 1998, C.S.'s and Steve's progress improved again, and Steve saw a psychiatrist about obtaining medication.

Dawn McGrath, a parent training coordinator, taught C.S. and Steve from September 1996 to December 1996. C.S.'s score on the "nurturing quiz" was below average and did not change. McGrath explained that the "nurturing quiz" measured cognitive skills and a parent's potential to be nurturing and abusive. C.S.'s problem- solving skills were very limited, and she seemed very unmotivated. C.S. did not participate in class and did not remove dangerous objects from her home without prompting. C.S. did not understand what could harm her children. For example, she left a box of glasses, glass bowls, and razor blades on the kitchen floor within easy reach of young children. McGrath had to explain to C.S. that these items were dangerous and needed to be put away.

Laura Windsor, a licensed clinical social worker, testified that she conducted couples' counseling with C.S. and Steve from May 1997 to August 1997. Windsor stated that Steve dominated the sessions and C.S. had a difficult time separating herself from Steve. C.S. met with Windsor individually but stopped after Steve objected. Steve appeared to be irrational at times and stated that M.M. was evil. Windsor believed Steve might harm the children. C.S. needed to acknowledge the past abuse by her and Steve and how this abuse affected her children. However, C.S. made no progress in that area, and Windsor feared that C.S. would take no action to protect her children from Steve. The counseling ended at Steve's request.

Rose Parsons, a DCFS aide/homemaker, testified that she visited C.S.'s home between December 1997 and January 1998. C.S. did not understand that her home was filthy or that she needed to address the problem. Uncovered razor blades were left within easy reach of the children, trash was kept in the home, and there were dead and live bugs in the kitchen. Further, Steve told Parsons that there had been a fire in the home caused by papers left on the heater. Parsons pointed out to Steve that papers were again on the heater and needed to be removed.

Kathleen Foley, a licensed clinical social worker, testified she visited C.S.'s home 17 times from September 1997 until May 1998. Foley was assigned to C.S.'s case to teach C.S. parenting skills. According to Foley, C.S. and Steve lacked an understanding as to what they needed to change or what problems existed. During visits, C.S. spoke, played, and interacted little with her children and did not seem to know how to interact with them or protect them. When Foley suggested that C.S. role play, she refused, explaining that her mother was going to get her children and then give them back to her. Foley stated that C.S. failed to make any progress from September 1997 to May 1998. Foley also opined that ...

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