Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 91 J 18055 The Honorable Wayne Meyer, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hourihane
nunc pro tunc to July 30, 1999
This is an appeal from an order of the circuit court which found Arthur M. was not an unfit parent and which dismissed the State's petition for appointment of a guardian with authority to consent to the adoption of Arthur's minor son, Grant M.
We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Grant was born on November 29, 1988, to Arthur M. and Cecilia W. He was born with drugs in his system. A finding of neglect was entered on November 19, 1991, and a month later Grant was adjudicated a ward of the court.
On January 25, 1996, the State filed a supplemental petition for appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to adoption. Cecilia consented to Grant's adoption. Arthur initially agreed, but later withdrew his consent. Thus, hearing proceeded on the State's supplemental petition.
The State alleged that Arthur was unfit in that he failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to Grant's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 1994)); that he had been addicted to drugs for at least one year immediately prior to the commencement of the unfitness proceeding (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(k) (West 1994)); that he failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for removal of Grant and/or failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of Grant, within 12 months after the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1994)); and that he evidenced his intent to forgo his parental rights by failing, for a period of 12 months, to visit Grant, to communicate with Grant or the agency, and/or to maintain contact with or plan for Grant's future (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(n) (West 1994)).
The evidence presented at the unfitness hearing is largely undisputed. Grant had lived with Arthur and Cecilia until the age of two. At that time, Cecilia left Grant with her mother, Rosie Jones, who had been helping raise the child since birth. Grant, who was almost 9 years old at the time of the hearing, has lived continuously with his grandmother.
Until Rosie began receiving public aid, the financial burden of raising Grant fell to her. Although Rosie asked Arthur for financial help, he provided none. There was evidence that, at one point, Cecilia and Arthur were living on the public aid money intended for Grant and his sister Jean W., who was also being raised by Rosie.
During the period 1991 through 1995, Arthur's visitation with his son was sporadic, at best. He visited perhaps four to seven times per year, and there were periods of six to eight months where he made no visits. Even during the few weeks that Arthur lived in the same house with Rosie and Grant, he failed to interact with his son. It was not until approximately 1996 or later that Arthur began visiting Grant more regularly, taking him to Sunday church services and to dinner.
Other than a coat Arthur bought Grant for Christmas in 1996, Rosie could recall no other presents. However, Arthur maintained he had given his son a few small toys over the years. Although invited, Arthur attended no birthday parties for Grant; he was uninvolved in Grant's schoolwork; and he never prepared a meal at Rosie's home.
The social service agency handling Grant's case had no contact with Arthur, his whereabouts unknown, until January 1996 when he telephoned the case worker. The only reason he offered for not making contact sooner was that no one told him the agency was overseeing Grant's welfare.
At the time of the hearing, Arthur was 42 years old. The evidence documents a lengthy history of drug abuse, beginning in his late teens, involving cocaine, cannabis, methadone and heroin. Arthur supported his addiction by dealing drugs and stealing, and admitted to two drug- related convictions. In May 1996, he completed an outpatient drug treatment program, and there was evidence that he has remained drug- free. He ...