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K.B. v. Crowder

June 30, 2000

IN RE: K.B., A MINOR, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
V.
KATHLEEN CROWDER, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 93J369 Honorable Thomas R. Appleton, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

On March 18, 1998, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent mother, Kathleen Crowder, to her minor daughter, K.B. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the petition. The State filed a motion to reconsider, which the court denied on October 4, 1999. In July 1999, the State filed a supplemental petition to terminate. That petition was denied following a hearing. The State now appeals. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

In November 1993, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, naming Kevin B. as K.B.'s father and respondent as K.B.'s mother. It alleged that K.B. (born November 21, 1993) was neglected due to an injurious environment, because she was born with cocaine in her system. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1992). An adjudicatory order, entered on February 17, 1994, found K.B. to be neglected as alleged in the petition and ordered her placed in the custody and guardianship of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), with the right to place her with her parents. The trial court entered a dispositional order on March 17, 1994, adjudging K.B. a ward of the court and continuing her custody and guardianship in DCFS. Respondent and Kevin were ordered to cooperate with DCFS and their service plans. The parents were ordered to obtain and successfully complete drug and alcohol treatment as recommended by DCFS.

On January 4, 1996, K.B.'s foster mother, Janice Neal, a DCFS employee, filed a petition for custody of K.B. in cause No. 96-F-2. On Neal's motion, her custody case was consolidated with the instant case.

All proceedings in this appeal concern only the State's two petitions to terminate Kathleen's parental rights.

A. March 1998 Petition To Terminate

On March 18, 1998, the State filed its first petition to terminate the parental rights of both parents. As to Kathleen, the petition alleged that she was an unfit parent in that she (1) failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to K.B.'s well-being (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 1996)); (2) failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for removal of K.B. from her custody within 12 months after the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1996)); and (3) failed to make reasonable progress toward return of K.B. to her custody within 12 months of the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1996)).

At a hearing on this petition, DCFS caseworker Robin Rees testified that she was K.B.'s caseworker from December 1996 to April 1997. K.B. was returned to Kathleen in December 1996 and removed by DCFS on February 19, 1997. The reason for the removal involved a neighbor who was causing trouble for Kathleen. Due to this problem, DCFS decided to move Kathleen to another location. During the moving process, Kathleen asked the neighbor to help move furniture. An altercation occurred and "the placement was blown." Kathleen was arrested for endangering K.B.'s life, battery, and resisting a police officer. When K.B. was removed after that incident, she was placed with Lisa Cameron, Kathleen's sister. The purpose of removing K.B. was to place her outside Kathleen's home until an investigation of the incident between Kathleen and the neighbor was completed. A return of K.B. to Kathleen's custody was anticipated. When asked whether K.B. was returned, Rees stated that she was not, because Kathleen refused DCFS' request to go to relapse prevention counseling. Despite the fact that all criminal charges against Kathleen were dropped the same week that she was arrested, DCFS indicated Kathleen for risk of harm. For this reason and because during the nine-day period from February 19, 1997, to March 1, 1997, Kathleen had not followed through with her relapse prevention counseling, DCFS decided to remove K.B. from Cameron's house and place her with Neal. Due to the fact that Neal is a DCFS employee, the case was transferred from DCFS to Lutheran Child and Family Services (Lutheran Services). This is the normal procedure in such a situation.

Rees stated that following removal of K.B. from Kathleen's home in February 1997, visitation was to be once per week for three hours. Rees supervised some visitation between Kathleen and K.B. in early 1997 while K.B. was living with Cameron. A February 19, 1997, visit was terminated early because Kathleen started making inappropriate statements about Neal. A visit the following week was terminated early because Kathleen upset K.B. by talking about giving K.B. up for adoption. Of the eight visits scheduled from February 1997 until Rees transferred the case, Kathleen missed three visits. Only two visits took place that were not terminated early.

Rees developed client service plans during her tenure as K.B.'s caseworker. Two service plans written in March 1997 and May 1997 had a permanency goal of return home. They contained multiple objectives, including requirements that Kathleen (1) continue to avoid exposing herself to potentially dangerous people, (2) continue to avoid resorting to violence to settle disputes, (3) refrain from violating any laws, (4) call the police if she is threatened by another person, (5) agree to cooperate with visits by the caseworker, (6) obtain a psychological evaluation and follow any recommendations for treatment, and (7) complete a drug and alcohol assessment from the Triangle Center and comply with any recommendations. Most of the objectives were rated unsatisfactory. Kathleen obtained the drug and alcohol assessment but did not follow through with recommendations. She met with a counselor one time but refused to continue. When Rees discussed the objectives with Kathleen, she told Rees that she did not need counseling and would not attend. She also said that she would not go back to Triangle Center, because alcohol was not her drug of choice.

Rees testified that Tim Gonzalez preceded her as caseworker. When K.B. was placed with Kathleen in December 1996, the case went to Bridgeway Aftercare. Rees was assigned the case either at that point or in January 1997. When asked whether she knew of any reason why caseworkers changed, Rees stated that it was "just policy and procedures" that once a child returns home from foster care, DCFS' contracts are with Bridgeway Aftercare. Gonzalez had been the caseworker for the four preceding years, when K.B. was initially taken into foster care. At the time K.B. was returned to Kathleen in December 1996, Gonzalez had rated Kathleen satisfactory on her service plan objectives. Rees agreed that the removal of K.B. from Kathleen's home in February 1997 marked the point at which Kathleen ceased to cooperate and achieve her objectives. Kathleen and Rees worked well together until that time.

Roberta Gaines, former Lutheran Services caseworker, testified that she was K.B.'s caseworker from the end of April 1997 until June 1997. Visits were to take place once a week at Lutheran Services. Kathleen attended most of those visits. Her client service plan objectives during that period were to (1) complete a drug and alcohol assessment through Triangle Center, (2) complete a psychological evaluation, and (3) receive counseling services. Kathleen's position with regard to these tasks was that she had accomplished these same tasks prior to K.B.'s return home and that she would not do them all over again. These tasks had been established to deal with anger-management issues that arose from Kathleen's prior outbursts with previous caseworkers and also to be certain that alcohol was no longer an issue for Kathleen. Gaines was not aware that, under Rees' tenure, Kathleen did obtain a drug and alcohol assessment.

Joseph Anderson, former Lutheran Services caseworker, testified that the client service plans while he was the caseworker all remained the same. Anderson evaluated the service plan in October 1997, more than 30 days prior to the normal evaluation date, because he was leaving Lutheran Services. Kathleen had participated well in visits with K.B. and participated in some counseling. To Anderson's knowledge, Kathleen did not complete any drug or alcohol assessment or any type of treatment. Anderson testified that while he had the case, Kathleen was arrested outside a convenience store and police had to use pepper spray to restrain her. She was charged with resisting a police officer, but the charges were dropped.

Vanessa Taylor, Lutheran Services caseworker, testified that she was assigned K.B.'s case on October 27, 1997, and had continued to the present. Initially, visits with K.B. were on a weekly basis. At an administrative case review (ACR) held on November 21, 1997, which Kathleen did not attend, the permanency goal was changed from return home to substitute care pending court decision. This resulted from a legal screening held on August 5, 1997, at which termination of parental rights was recommended. After the November 21, 1997, ACR, Kathleen's weekly visits were changed to once per month for one hour. Kathleen had the responsibility to call and arrange for a visit. No visits took place between January 1998 and July 1998. Kathleen made no contact at all with Taylor during that time period. On July 1, 1998, Kathleen called and requested a visit with K.B. Because K.B. was on vacation during July, she was asked to call again near the beginning of August. She did so and a visit was held on August 7, 1998. Another visit was held in September 1998. At that time, Kathleen told Taylor that she was living at McFarland Zone Center. She refused to tell Taylor why she was there. At no time did Kathleen provide any information indicating that she had been working on any of her tasks.

Taylor testified that she did not make any referrals on Kathleen's behalf for services during her tenure as caseworker. Taylor was aware that Kathleen had obtained a drug and alcohol assessment and a psychological evaluation prior to K.B.'s return home in December 1996. When asked why it was necessary for Kathleen to do these tasks again after K.B. was removed in February 1997, Taylor stated that DCFS procedure requires it. Taylor had not visited Kathleen at her home. Taylor sent Kathleen a certified letter in March 1998, asking her to contact Taylor. Kathleen did not respond.

Pam Rouse of Lutheran Services testified that she supervised visits in 1998 between Kathleen and K.B. At first, K.B. did not recognize Kathleen and Rouse had to tell her that Kathleen was her mother. During the visit, Kathleen told K.B. that she had not visited with her because Lutheran Services would not allow it. Gonzalez, K.B.'s initial caseworker, testified that he was assigned the case at the end of November 1993. He was removed as caseworker at the beginning of February 1997. During his six years as a DCFS caseworker, Gonzalez was involved in hundreds of cases. He thought it unusual that he was removed as caseworker, since there normally would have to be some compelling reason for a caseworker's removal. Neither he nor Kathleen requested his removal. In fact, he objected to it. During his tenure as caseworker, Gonzalez had contact with Neal as K.B.'s foster parent. They spoke or met at least once per month. They discussed service plans, visitation, and the permanency goals. Neal made statements about wanting K.B. to live with her permanently. Gonzalez sometimes had to refocus the discussion on the permanency goal, which was to reunite Kathleen and K.B. Neal later hired an attorney to combat this permanency goal.

Gonzalez testified that for five to six months prior to the time that K.B. was officially returned to Kathleen in December 1996, K.B. was with Kathleen on an unsupervised basis the vast majority of the time. Gonzalez made the recommendation that K.B. be returned home. Kathleen had accomplished the tasks required of her to regain custody of her child. New tasks were established to allow K.B. to remain home. Between the time K.B. returned home and the time Gonzalez was removed from the case, Kathleen continued to cooperate with him as caseworker. Some of her tasks included remaining drug-free, abiding by the law, maintaining stable housing, and protecting K.B. from individuals who would pose a risk of harm to her.

Kathleen testified that after K.B. was returned to her in December 1996, she did not feel that she needed to complete any further tasks, as she had already done everything required of her to regain custody of her daughter. The neighbor with whom she had trouble lived across the hall from Kathleen. She was hostile to Kathleen and was an alcoholic who had prior dealings with Neal. The neighbor would often get drunk, knock on Kathleen's door late at night, and call Kathleen a "nigger lovin' ho" in front of K.B. After Kathleen moved to her new apartment, the neighbor called police and made a complaint. Police came to her door and took her to jail. No charges were filed against her. After K.B. was returned to foster care, Kathleen stopped her mental health counseling and her attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She did not attempt to do any of the things requested by her caseworkers.

Kathleen testified that she attended her visits with K.B. until November 1997. At that time, DCFS decided that, because Neal had put in another request for termination of parental rights, Kathleen's visits would be cut to once a month for one hour. She could not deal with this and so did not attend the November 1997 visit. She did attend the December 1997 visit, but did not attend further visits until August 1998, because she felt that "it was a lost cause." No matter what she did, the result would be the ...


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