Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 96JA2 Honorable Ann A. Einhorn, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
In January 1998, the circuit court of Champaign County adjudicated Lisa Head to be an unfit parent. In April 1998, the court terminated her parental rights to her two-year-old son, H.C., and her one-year-old daughter, Ha.C. Lisa appeals.
In January 1996, Lisa left her trailer home to do laundry, leaving three-month-old H.C. at home with his father, Terry C. When she returned, H.C. had multiple bruises on his face. Terry C. explained H.C. fell out of his grasp, hitting his face on a table and then the floor. Terry C. admitted he might have pushed the child a little. Lisa brought H.C. to the hospital, where he was examined by Dr. Basillio. H.C. had several bruises on both sides of his face, but nowhere else. Basillio stated the injuries might be consistent with falling and hitting his face on a table and floor.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) sought a second opinion from pediatrician Dr. Buetow. She determined the injuries were not consistent with the parents' statements as to how they occurred. Buetow believed H.C. had been struck intentionally by an object, possibly a belt with a buckle.
Based on the injuries and the inconsistent statements by his parents, H.C. was taken into protective custody. The State filed a petition, alleging H.C. was neglected and abused by being in an environment that was injurious to his welfare. DCFS filed a home and background report with the court in March 1996. According to the report, Lisa dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and became pregnant when she was 17. She later married Gary Head and had another child with him. After several years, she and Head divorced and the custody of her two children was awarded to Gary. Lisa continued to visit the children.
Lisa started dating Terry C. in September 1994 and moved in with him in November 1994. Lisa and Terry C. had an intertwined family relationship. Lisa's twin sister was married to Terry C.'s brother, and Lisa's father was married to Terry C.'s mother. H.C. was born to Lisa and Terry C. in September 1995. At first, Lisa was in shock and disbelief at the allegation that Terry C. had abused their son.
Terry C. had a history of criminality. Terry C. had been arrested several times and had spent four different terms in prison for theft, burglary, forgery, and aggravated battery. The aggravated battery conviction stemmed from a physical altercation where he injured a girl-friend. Terry C. drank alcohol regularly and admitted using various drugs in the past.
In March 1996, the court adjudicated H.C. an abused minor. At a Dispositional hearing in April 1996, the court found that Terry C. had inflicted the physical abuse. The court also found that Lisa was unfit to care for H.C. because:
"[s]he refuses to believe or even consider that the respondent father physically abused the respondent minor. She is clearly more concerned with her relationship with the respondent father than the safety of the respondent minor."
H.C. was placed in foster care and Lisa was ordered to establish and maintain a regular course of visitation with H.C. and to fully cooperate with DCFS with respect to any recommended counseling or parenting classes.
A review report, dated September 16, 1996, stated that Lisa and Terry C. still lived together and both had supervised visitations with H.C. twice a week. H.C. always appeared happy to see Lisa and Terry C., especially Terry C. Lisa only missed a few visitations, and those were because of car trouble and sickness. Lisa completed a psychological evaluation, a substance-abuse assessment, and was engaged in parenting education and counseling. Lisa's attendance at counseling sessions was sporadic and Terry C. did not attend any counseling. The report concluded that both Lisa and Terry C. had made "very little progress towards attendance and completion of services." Terry C. still denied he abused H.C.
Terry C. moved out of Lisa's trailer in early October 1996. Lisa claimed Terry C. no longer lived with her because of the injuries to H.C. and so that she would not lose custody of her next child, Ha.C. Lisa gave birth to Ha.C. shortly after Terry C. moved out. Terry C. was also the father of Ha.C. A supplemental petition was filed, alleging Ha.C. was neglected and abused. The court found probable cause to believe the petition and ordered DCFS to be Ha.C.'s temporary guardian.
In January 1997, a review report stated that Lisa acknowledged that Terry C. was responsible for H.C.'s injuries, but she was not sure whether they were accidental or intentional. She stated she would not let Terry C. have unsupervised contact with the children if they were returned to her. Terry C. still denied he abused H.C. and did not attend counseling.
Meanwhile, H.C. and Ha.C. were adjusting well in the foster home of Loren and Cheryl Engstrom. The Engstroms already had six biological children living at home. A DCFS report stated Cheryl seemed to derive a great deal of pleasure in her role as protector of H.C. and Ha.C., and the Engstroms took a very active role in the children's case. From the beginning, the Engstroms seemed against the idea of the children returning home to their parents. Cheryl told a DCFS worker before H.C. and Ha.C. were placed with her that she "did not like working with natural parents." Also, she could not understand why DCFS decided to use her home if they intended to reunite Lisa with her children. Cheryl was also angry that DCFS was not seeking or using her input about Lisa's parenting capacity.
In December 1996, the Engstroms wrote a letter to the Judge, stating a DCFS caseworker told them that DCFS planned to return the children to Lisa in February 1997. The Engstroms were concerned that DCFS was "rushing to accomplish this goal" and that the children's best interests would not be met. Pursuant to the Engstroms' request, the Judge appointed Barbara Powell as court-appointed special advocate (CASA) to H.C. and Ha.C.
A DCFS review report, dated April 23, 1997, stated Lisa had made "tremendous progress" since the last report. She had completed parenting classes, maintained housing and employment, and attended all of her counseling sessions and visitations. Lisa's visits were very interactive with her children. Terry C. also resumed visitation with the children, and appeared to be "very bonded" with H.C. and Ha.C. However, Terry C. still refused to participate in counseling.
In May 1997, the State filed a petition seeking termination of Terry C.'s parental rights. Terry C.'s parental rights were terminated in September 1997.
In August 1997, a DCFS review report stated Lisa was pregnant again and due to deliver in late December 1997. Lisa claimed Terry C. was not the father. (The father was later stated to be Chris Anderson.) The Engstroms expressed their desire to take Lisa's unborn child into their family should the court decide to remove the child at birth.
Another DCFS review report, dated October 9, 1997, showed that Lisa had continued her progress, completing all of the recommended counseling and maintaining visitation with her children. Lisa claimed she understood that Terry C. could not be around H.C. and Ha.C. and that she would not jeopardize getting her children back by being associated with him. The report stated "[i]t is clearly evident that [Lisa] loves her children and wants them home." The report recommended Lisa be granted unsupervised extended overnight and weekend visitation.
On October 15, 1997, CASA Powell wrote to the Judge that H.C. and Ha.C. had become attached to the Engstroms. Powell also believed Lisa's new pregnancy would impact her ability to care for H.C. and Ha.C. Finally, Powell was concerned about evidence that suggested Lisa was still seeing Terry C.
On October 21, 1997, the State filed a petition seeking termination of Lisa's parental rights, alleging she had failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of her children and had failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis of the removal of the children.
An adjudicatory hearing was held in January 1998. The court took judicial notice of Lisa's file and previous proceedings "to the extent that they meet the evidentiary requirements of this hearing." Various caseworkers testified as to Lisa's progress, including Jennifer Bogner, Norman Lambert, Marilyn Walker, and Gladys Hunt. Essentially, the caseworkers testified Lisa had successfully completed the DCFS programs and had acknowledged, after some initial reluctance, that Terry C. was responsible for H.C.'s abuse. Lisa informed the caseworkers she no longer had a sexual relationship with Terry C. and would not let him around her children.
The State also presented evidence of Lisa's contacts with Terry C. Walker testified that in October 1997, Lisa visited Terry C. twice while he was in the county jail. Lisa claimed she only went there to inform Terry C. that his mother (Lisa's stepmother) had been hospitalized from a stroke and that his nephew was having his kidney removed. In April 1997, Lisa was at her sister's house and Terry C. showed up. Lisa started having back pains, so Terry C. drove her to the hospital. In August 1997, Cheryl spotted Lisa and Terry C. together at Meijer department store, where Lisa worked. Cheryl took a picture of them together in the parking lot. At first, Lisa lied to her caseworker about seeing Terry C. at Meijer, but later admitted seeing him there more than once. Cheryl also spotted Lisa and Terry C. together at a local gas station and informed DCFS. Lisa claimed her car broke down and Terry C. came to help fix it. Lisa claimed Cheryl was stalking her and she did not feel safe.
Lisa testified she had not had a sexual relationship with Terry C. in 1997, and he was not the father of her newborn child. Lisa stated she would not pursue a relationship with Terry C. in the future. She stated he posed a risk to her children and she did not want him to have unsupervised contact with them. Lisa admitted lying about seeing Terry C. at the department store because she was afraid it might hurt her chances of getting her ...