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People v. M.I.

December 27, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. Nos. 95--J--344; 95--J--345; 95--J--346 Honorable James W. Jerz, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger


The respondent, M.I., appeals from the December 4, 1998, order of the circuit court of Du Page County changing the permanency goal for her three minor children, E.I., A.I., and R.I. Specifically, the permanency goal was changed from "return home" to subsidized guardianship with the children's maternal grandmother. On appeal, the respondent argues that (1) the trial court's decision to change the permanency goal was against the manifest weight of the evidence and resulted in manifest injustice; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the length of the permanency hearing to one hour. We affirm.

The record reveals the following relevant facts. The respondent is the mother of three minor children, E.I. (age 13), A.I. (age 10), and R.I. (age 8). On March 8, 1995, the State filed a petition alleging that the minor children were neglected for lack of support, education, and other care necessary for their well-being, including adequate food, clothing, and shelter. The respondent was alleged to have left her children unsupervised at home and in the car for long periods of time. The children were alleged to have been dirty, unkempt, and improperly fed. On March 9, 1995, following a shelter care hearing, the children were placed in the temporary custody and guardianship of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). At this time, the children were temporarily placed with Margaret Reaves, the children's maternal grandmother.

On November 20, 1995, following a hearing on the neglect petition, the trial court adjudicated the children neglected and made them wards of the court. That same day, the trial court entered a dispositional order placing the children in the care and custody of Reaves. The respondent was allowed supervised visitation.

On October 25, 1996, DCFS formulated a client service plan for the respondent. As part of plan, DCFS established a permanency goal that the children eventually would be returned home to live with the respondent. During a subsequent administrative review on April 25, 1997, DCFS again determined that "return home" was the appropriate permanency goal. At a permanency hearing on May 27, 1997, the trial court adopted DCFS's recommendations.

On December 4, 1997, DCFS completed another administrative case review and concluded that the permanency goal should be changed from "return home" to subsidized guardianship with Reaves. The DCFS caseworker reported that the respondent had failed to make reasonable progress on her service plan tasks, particularly her attendance at counseling. On December 9, 1997, the respondent objected to the permanency goal change and the matter was subsequently scheduled for a permanency hearing.

On March 10, 1998, the trial court held a permanency hearing to consider the DCFS's recommended change in the permanency goal. On March 24, 1998, the trial court entered a written order rejecting the recommended change and finding that the permanency goal should remain "return home." In so ruling, the trial court found that the respondent had made progress towards the goal of "return home" and that there was insufficient evidence to change the permanency goal. The trial court further ordered DCFS to develop and implement a new service plan that would provide the respondent with adequate individual counseling.

On April 11, 1998, DCFS implemented a new service plan according to the trial court's directive. The permanency goal contained in the service plan was that the minor children would be returned to the respondent in five months.

On October 28, 1998, DCFS conducted another administrative case review. At this time, the permanency goal was again changed from "return home" to subsidized guardianship. Once again, the respondent objected to the change in the permanency goal. On November 17, 1998, the trial court scheduled a permanency hearing for December 4, 1998. The trial court ordered that the hearing would be limited to one hour in duration.

On December 4, 1998, the trial court conducted a permanency hearing. The State called one witness at the hearing, Teresa Spears, who was a caseworker with Central Baptist Family Service. Spears testified that she was the caseworker assigned to the respondent's case. Spears testified that, during the four years that the case has been opened, the respondent had not sufficiently complied with the requirements of her service plan. Specifically, the respondent had not completed the "most important" service plan task, family counseling. The respondent failed to consistently attend counseling and regularly missed appointments. Spears explained that the respondent would only get "serious about [counseling] when we're coming to court, and [there is a] possibility of the goal being changed." Spears testified that family counseling was especially important given the fact that the children continued to express concerns of abandonment and neglect, as well as difficulty communicating with their mother.

The court file also contains written reports authored by two of the respondent's previous therapists, Bessie Smith and John McPherrin. These reports documented that the respondent was making some progress when she attended counseling sessions. However, these therapists indicated that the respondent's progress had been hindered by her sporadic attendance.

On cross-examination, Spears acknowledged that, during the administrative case review conducted by DCFS on October 28, 1998, the respondent was evaluated as having achieved satisfactory progress in accomplishing the goals of her service plan. Among the tasks that the respondent was found to have satisfactorily completed were the following: (1) demonstrating the parenting skills that she learned in class; (2) setting appropriate boundaries for the children while they were in her care; (3) never leaving the minors unattended; (4) keeping suitable housing for herself; (5) continuing to reside in the same residence; (6) contacting caseworkers at least two times a month; and (7) allowing the caseworker to make periodic unannounced home visits. The only tasks on which the respondent was evaluated as unsatisfactory were attending and cooperating with counseling as arranged by the caseworker and paying her utility bills on time.

The respondent testified on her own behalf. The respondent testified that she had been engaged in individual therapy since March 1998 and that she was currently meeting with Charley Knapp. The respondent acknowledged that she had not regularly attended therapy. However, the respondent attributed some of this failure to her difficulty in contacting the therapist to schedule appointments. The respondent testified that she ...

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