Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 96JA4 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Knecht
Respondent father, Simon Caldwell, appeals the order of the circuit court of McLean County, finding him an unfit parent and terminating his parental rights. Respondent argues the trial court's finding of unfitness was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree and affirm.
The record before us establishes the following. The minor, B.W., was born June 23, 1995. On January 17, 1996, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging B.W. was a neglected minor as defined in section 2-3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3 (West 1996)). A shelter-care hearing was held on January 17, 1996, in which temporary custody of the minor was awarded to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
An adjudicatory hearing was held on March 25, 1996, in which respondent mother admitted the State's allegation of neglect due to injurious environment. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1996). Based on this admission, the trial court found B.W. was a neglected minor.
At the dispositional hearing on May 6, 1996, the trial court transferred guardianship of the minor to DCFS. On June 11, 1997, a permanency hearing was held and, thereafter, on June 12, 1997, the trial court found the best interests of the child required the child remain in the guardianship of DCFS.
On March 27, 1998, respondent was named as a putative father of B.W. That same day, the trial court issued a summons to respondent, requiring him to appear in court on July 14, 1998. On May 6, 1998, respondent wrote a letter to the trial court judge, requesting a paternity test and expressing an interest in obtaining custody of B.W.
On May 11, 1998, the Baby Fold directed a letter to respondent, advising him he had been named as a putative father of B.W. On May 13, 1998, respondent responded to the Baby Fold by letter, again requesting a paternity test and expressing interest in custody.
On July 14, 1998, respondent appeared before the trial court and was ordered to submit to a paternity test. On November 30, 1998, the paternity test taken by respondent revealed a 99.99% probability he was the biological father of B.W. On January 15, 1998, the Baby Fold wrote a letter to respondent, advising him of the results of the paternity test.
On February 5, 1999, respondent admitted to the paternity of B.W., and the trial court entered an order as to paternity. That same day, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, alleging, inter alia, failure to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1998)) and failure to discharge his parental responsibilities due to repeated incarceration (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(s) (West 1998)).
On May 26 and 27, 1999, the trial court held hearings on the petition to terminate parental rights. At the hearings, three child welfare specialists testified on behalf of the State. The evidence revealed the Baby Fold informed respondent as early as May 11, 1998, he had been named as a putative father of B.W. Respondent sent a letter dated May 13, 1998, to the Baby Fold in which he requested a paternity test but did not request visitation or express a desire to receive unification services. In absence of a request from respondent to participate in services, respondent was not included in any of the client service plans developed at that time. Thereafter, on January 15, 1999, the Baby Fold sent a letter to respondent, advising him of the results of the paternity test and requesting he contact the Baby Fold if interested in receiving services. Respondent failed to respond to this correspondence and, therefore, was not incorporated into any client service plan or afforded unification services.
Other evidence presented at the termination hearings included the testimony of respondent, who testified as follows. He was unaware of the existence of the child until he was notified through the court system in March 1998. He had a one-time sexual encounter with the respondent mother in 1994 shortly before his most recent incarceration and was unaware she had become pregnant. He expressed an interest in receiving custody of B.W. and indicated he was scheduled to be released from prison in either May or August 2000.
At the hearing on the petition to terminate, the trial court took judicial notice of respondent's history of criminal convictions and record of incarceration, which included the following. On August 25, 1992, respondent was sentenced to imprisonment and probation for two counts of aggravated battery. On August 24, 1993, respondent received two concurrent sentences of 364 days of imprisonment for criminal damage to property and theft. Thereafter, respondent was sentenced to two concurrent three-year terms of imprisonment for criminal damage to property and unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. On August 18, 1997, respondent was sentenced to two concurrent terms of eight years of incarceration for criminal drug conspiracy and two counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.
In addition to respondent's criminal history, the trial court took judicial notice of McLean County case No. 89-J-28 in which respondent was found to have neglected another of his minor children in creating an injurious environment by means of excessive corporal punishment. The child was adjudicated a neglected minor and made a ward of ...