Appeal from Circuit Court of Adams County No. 97JA44 Honorable Chet W. Vahle, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McCULLOUGH
the opinion of the court:
Respondent mother Brendalee Boden appeals from the orders of the circuit court of Adams County finding her an unfit parent and terminating her parental rights in K.B.J. (born January 5, 1996). Respondent father Roger J. irrevocably surrendered his parental rights and is not a party to this appeal. Respondent, on appeal, argues the trial court erred in finding that 12 months had passed from the time of adjudication to the filing of the motion to terminate parental rights as required by the statute. We affirm.
On July 1, 1997, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship pursuant to section 2-3(1)(b) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1996)), alleging K.B.J. to be neglected because his environment was injurious to his welfare when he resided with his mother. The petition specifically alleged (1) respondent mother had an extensive history with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and her parental rights to her two daughters had been terminated in 1996 (Adams County case Nos. 93-J-81, 93-J-82); (2) respondent mother failed to address chronic neglect problems at home, allowing Steven Vandermaiden, a convicted arsonist and indicted child abuser, into her apartment and around the minor; (3) respondent mother refused to get counseling, although she admitted she needed it; (4) the minor's physician was concerned that the minor was not gaining weight; and (5) DCFS had "indicated" respondent mother for environmental neglect due to the unclean condition of the home. On September 26, 1997, K.B.J. was adjudicated a neglected minor for all of the above reasons. On October 21, 1997, the trial court entered its Dispositional order making K.B.J. a ward of the court, removing custody from respondent mother, and placing K.B.J. under the guardianship of DCFS.
On July 14, 1998, the State filed a petition to terminate parental rights under section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West Supp. 1997)), alleging respondent mother to be an unfit parent because she failed to make (1) reasonable progress toward the return of the child within nine months of the adjudication of neglect and (2) reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of the child from her. Following the unfitness hearing conducted on October 20 and 21, 1998, the trial court found respondent mother unfit for failure to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis of the child's removal from her and for failure to make reasonable progress toward the child's return within nine months of the adjudication of neglect. Although the trial court's order stated the time period was nine months, the trial court stated at the October 21 hearing that it would apply the 12-month period provided in an earlier version of the statute (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1996)) because of concern respondent mother may not have been given admonishments required by recent statutory amendments with which the trial court associated the reduction of the time period from 12 months to 9 months. The order terminating respondent mother's parental rights was entered on October 26, 1998.
Respondent mother's brief includes two sections in the argument. The first section is "GENERAL PROPOSITIONS OF LAW." The second section poses the question of whether the State and the trial court complied with the 12-month statutory time period over which reasonable progress is to be assessed. At the time the petition to terminate parental rights was filed in this case, section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act provided as a ground for finding parental unfitness the failure "to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child to the parent within 9 months after an adjudication of neglected or abused minor under Section 2-3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 or dependent minor under Section 2-4 of that Act." 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West Supp. 1997). Effective August 16, 1997, section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act was amended to shorten the period of the reasonable progress standard from 12 months to 9 months (Pub. Act 90-27, §45, eff. June 25, 1997 (1997 Ill. Laws 1437, 1489)); 750 ILCS 50/1 (West Supp. 1997); 750 ILCS Ann. 50/1, Historical & Statutory Notes, at 235-36 (Smith-Hurd Supp. 1998).
Respondent mother's only argument focuses on the fact that the petition for termination of parental rights was filed before the expiration of the 12 months after the adjudication of neglect and that the trial court, therefore, could not have considered respondent mother's progress over a 12-month period, even though the unfitness hearing was conducted more than 12 months after the adjudication of neglect. See In re A.T., 197 Ill. App. 3d 821, 831-32, 555 N.E.2d 402, 409 (1990).
She does not suggest or argue that the evidence was insufficient to find her unfit as alleged in the petition to terminate parental rights for failure to make reasonable efforts and/or failure to make reasonable progress within nine months of adjudication.
We need not decide whether the trial court improperly applied the reasonable progress standard in this case. Respondent mother was found to be an unfit parent for failure "to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of the child from the parent." 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West Supp. 1997). Although contained in the same subsection, reasonable efforts and reasonable progress are separate and distinct grounds for unfitness. In re L.L.S., 218 Ill. App. 3d 444, 458-59, 577 N.E.2d 1375, 1385 (1991), quoting In re Allen, 172 Ill. App. 3d 950, 956, 527 N.E.2d 647, 651-52 (1988); In re Austin, 61 Ill. App. 3d 344, 349, 378 N.E.2d 538, 542 (1978). Although courts have construed the meaning of the term "12 months" in this statute, in doing so some courts have assumed the 12-month period applied to both standards of unfitness without utilizing a statutory construction analysis to arrive at that Conclusion. See In re C.R., 221 Ill. App. 3d 373, 377, 581 N.E.2d 1202, 1205 (1991); A.T., 197 Ill. App. 3d at 831- 32, 555 N.E.2d at 409; In re R.S., 174 Ill. App. 3d 132, 133-34, 528 N.E.2d 25, 25-26 (1988); In re Smith, 95 Ill. App. 3d 373, 377, 420 N.E.2d 200, 203 (1981). Other courts have construed the "12 months" terminology without making that assumption. In re S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d 88, 118-19, 598 N.E.2d 456, 475-76 (1992); In re T.B., 195 Ill. App. 3d 919, 924-25, 552 N.E.2d 1107, 1110-11 (1990). In none of these cases did the court consider the specific issue of whether the time period alluded to in the statute applied to the reasonable efforts ground.
"The cardinal rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the true intent of the legislature." People v. Latona, 184 Ill. 2d 260, 269, 703 N.E.2d 901, 906 (1998). The starting point for the analysis is the language of the statute, and if the statute's language is clear and unambiguous, it will be given effect without resort to other tools of construction. Gem Electronics of Monmouth, Inc. v. Department of Revenue, 183 Ill. 2d 470, 475, 702 N.E.2d 529, 532 (1998).
In determining legislative intent, courts consider the reason and necessity for the statute, the evils to be remedied, and the objectives to be obtained. Courts avoid construing the statute so as to defeat its purpose or yield an absurd or unjust result. Latona, 184 Ill. 2d at 269, 703 N.E.2d at 906; Pierce Downer's Heritage Alliance v. Village of Downers Grove, 302 Ill. App. 3d 286, 295-96, 704 N.E.2d 898, 904-05 (1998). Courts "consider the nature, object[,] and consequences of construing the statute one way as opposed to another." Bowne of Chicago, Inc. v. Human Rights Comm'n, 301 Ill. App. 3d 116, 120, 703 N.E.2d 443, 446 (1998).
In this case, to determine the purpose of the statutory language at issue, this court must look at the purposes of both the Juvenile Court Act and the Adoption Act. Section 2-29 of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-29 (West Supp. 1997)) authorizes termination of parental rights pursuant to the Adoption Act. The legislature expressed its intention that the Juvenile Court Act be liberally construed to carry out the purposes expressed in that act, which are to serve the best interests of the child in relation to the child's safety and the moral, emotional, mental, and physical welfare of the minor. 705 ILCS 405/1- 2(1), (4) (West Supp. 1997). The goals of the Juvenile Court Act include preserving and strengthening family ties "whenever possible," but if reunification fails or is delayed, then the best available placement is to be made to provide permanency for the child. 705 ILCS 405/1-2(1) (West Supp. 1997). The Adoption Act is also to be liberally construed. In re Donte A., 259 Ill. App. 3d 246, 252, 631 N.E.2d 257, 261 (1994)). The overriding concern of both acts is the best interests of the child. In re Marriage of T.H., 255 Ill. App. 3d 247, 253, 626 N.E.2d 403, 408 (1993).
"Obviously, best interests considerations under the Juvenile Court Act and the Adoption Act are not mutually exclusive. However, the juvenile court's best interests considerations, in the context of a termination proceeding, are limited to a determination of whether it is in the child's best interests to be freed for adoption. By contrast, best interests considerations in the context of an adoption proceeding concern the appropriateness of a particular adoption placement." In re M.M., 156 Ill. 2d 53, 67, 619 N.E.2d 702, 710-11 (1993).
The statutes are liberally construed to effectuate their purposes. We do not construe the legislature's liberal construction directive to mean the statutes are to be liberally construed in ...