Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 98JA29 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
In July 1998, the trial court adjudicated D.S. (born in December 1996), the minor child of respondent, Charlene Sherman, neglected 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 1998)), and placed her in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In October 1998, the court adjudicated D.S. a ward of the court and appointed DCFS as her guardian with the power to place her.
In May 1999, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights regarding D.S., alleging that respondent was an unfit parent because she (1) failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of D.S. and (2) failed to make reasonable progress toward D.S.' return to her within nine months of the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1998)). In August 1999, the trial court found respondent unfit on both of the grounds alleged and granted the State's petition.
Respondent appeals, arguing that the trial court's unfitness and best interest findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.
In its April 1998 petition for adjudication of wardship, the State alleged that D.S. was residing in an environment injurious to her welfare in that her mother and stepfather, Joseph Sherman, had unresolved issues of domestic violence that placed D.S. at risk of harm. On July 30, 1998, respondent admitted the allegations of the petition, and the trial court adjudged D.S. neglected. On October 16, 1998, the court conducted a dispositional hearing, made D.S. its ward, and appointed DCFS as D.S.' guardian. That same day, the court filed its form dispositional order.
In May 1999, the State filed its petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, and in August 1999, the trial court conducted a hearing on the petition. A brief summary of the evidence presented follows.
Respondent and her husband, Sherman, had a history of domestic violence. Respondent had been both a victim and an aggressor, and the couple's altercations required police intervention on several occasions. In April 1998, after one such incident, an order of protection was entered against Sherman. In June 1998, that order was modified, and respondent and Sherman resumed living together. In July 1998, after the incident that resulted in D.S.' removal, Sherman moved out again. In August 1998, Sherman moved back in with respondent.
Gary Romansburger, a child protective investigator for DCFS, testified that pursuant to the original client service plan, respondent was required to (1) complete parenting classes; (2) get domestic violence treatment; and (3) follow the visitation plan. Peggy Mayfield, a team supervisor at Catholic Social Services, testified that in December 1998, respondent was given two additional goals: (1) obtain suitable housing and (2) maintain stable employment.
Respondent completed parenting classes in the summer of 1998 at the Institute for Human Resources in Pontiac.
On October 16, 1998 (coincidentally the date of the dispositional hearing on the State's petition alleging neglect), an apparent domestic violence incident occurred in the parking lot of Catholic Social Services when respondent and Sherman arrived for a visitation with D.S. Respondent and Sherman entered the building separately and in agitated states. Sherman had been scratched and indicated that respondent had done it. Staff members quickly separated them and escorted them out of the lobby. From then on, visitations with respondent and Sherman were scheduled separately.
In November 1998, respondent mother began attending weekly counseling sessions with Cheri Miller, a clinical psychologist at a mental health facility referred to in the record as "BroMenn." Respondent missed several sessions around the holidays, but otherwise attended regularly through March 1999. At the end of March 1999, respondent resumed her relationship with Sherman and stopped attending sessions until July 1999, sometime after the State filed its petition seeking termination of her parental rights. By the time of the August 1999 hearing, respondent had attended four sessions. Miller testified that respondent's progress had been "minimal" for her goals.
Respondent also missed scheduled visitations with D.S. in March and early April 1999. She was late for a visit on April 13 and missed a scheduled visit on April 20. Respondent called to cancel a visit in late April because of her work schedule.
During the fall or winter of 1998, respondent and Sherman separated, and respondent's living arrangements were in flux. At some point, she lived with her mother. In February 1999, respondent lived with her grandmother for a short time. At the end of February, she moved in with her cousin (and her cousin's fiancée and baby) and stayed there until the second week of March. When respondent and Sherman reunited in March, they lived in Bloomington with two other men until sometime in April. They next lived in a motel for a short time. In June 1999, they separated for two weeks, during which respondent lived with Sherman's ex-girlfriend. Brenda Juhnke, a caseworker for Catholic Social Services, testified that none of these arrangements constituted stable residences appropriate for D.S.
Juhnke further testified that on June 16, 1999, she reviewed the client service plan as to respondent's progress since December 22, 1998. With respect to employment, respondent had worked at several locations for several different companies. Juhnke rated respondent's progress on goals of counseling and visitation unsatisfactory since respondent had not been in counseling since March 16, 1999, and visitation occurred sporadically. Juhnke testified that she rated respondent's overall progress on the client service plan in June 1999 as unsatisfactory. Respondent testified that she intended to stay married to Sherman and that she was pregnant with his child. She and Sherman had not had any incidents of domestic violence since they reunited in March 1999.
Respondent admitted that when she reunited with Sherman in March 1999, she lost her motivation to continue counseling. During the relevant time period, she was registered with temporary employment agencies and worked sporadically. At the time of the hearing, respondent had been working at an establishment referred to only as "Freedom" for about a month. She considered it to be a good job and she intended to keep it. Sherman had not attended domestic violence counseling or treatment of any kind.
The trial court found respondent unfit and immediately heard evidence regarding D.S.' best interests. Sherman's mother, Joy Sherman, testified that D.S. had been living with her and her husband for about one year and that, if respondent's parental rights were terminated, they intended to ...