Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 92-J-15983 Honorable Marsha D. Hayes, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Theis
The minor respondent-appellant Latifah P., through the office of the public guardian, and the State's Attorney appealed from a circuit court order finding the child's mother, Veronica P., not unfit following a hearing on a petition to terminate parental rights under section 2-29 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-29 (West 1994)). At the request of the State's Attorney, the appeals were consolidated. We were asked to decide whether the circuit court's finding that Veronica was not unfit under sections 1(D)(b), 1(D)(k), and 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act (the Act) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (D)(k), (D)(m) (West 1994)) was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Having determined that it was, we reversed the court's order and remanded for a hearing to determine whether the termination of Veronica's parental rights and appointment of a guardian with authority to consent to adoption would be in the best interest of Latifah.
On June 26, 2000, our supreme court entered an order directing this court to vacate its previous order and reconsider its judgment in light of In re D.L., 191 Ill. 2d 1, 727 N.E.2d 990 (2000). Pursuant to that directive, we now vacate and reconsider our earlier opinion, but again reverse and remand for a hearing on Latifah's best interest.
The relevant facts adduced at the fitness hearing were as follows. Latifah was born to Veronica on August 14, 1992, and tested positive for cocaine at birth. Latifah has been in foster care since birth. On August 25, 1992, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) filed a petition for adjudication of wardship under section 2-3(1)(c) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(c) (West 1994)), alleging that Latifah was a newborn infant whose blood or urine contained cocaine. Latifah is the fourth of five children born to Veronica and is the third of her children to test positive for cocaine at birth.
On August 27, 1992, the circuit court entered a temporary custody order, appointing the DCFS guardianship administrator custodian of Latifah. On March 16, 1993, the circuit court entered an adjudication order, finding Latifah neglected under section 2-3(1)(c) of the Juvenile Court Act. On September 8, 1993, the circuit court entered a disposition order adjudicating Latifah a ward of the court. On December 19, 1994, the State's Attorney filed a supplemental petition for termination of parental rights and for appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to Latifah's adoption. The supplemental petition to terminate parental rights alleged the following grounds of parental unfitness under the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (D)(c), (D)(k), (D)(m) (West 1994)): (1) failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to Latifah's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 1994)); (2) desertion of Latifah for more than three months next preceding the filing of the termination petition (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(c) (West 1994)); (3) the parents were habitual drunkards or 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)); and (4) the parents' failure to make reasonable efforts to correct conditions that were the basis of Latifah's removal from their custody and/or failure to make reasonable progress toward Latifah's return within 12 months after the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1994)).
On January 15, 1998, the circuit court terminated the father's parental rights. The father, Lester P., has not filed a notice of appeal, and his parental rights are not at issue here. The circuit court declined to enter a finding of unfitness as to the mother, Veronica, and a permanency planning hearing was scheduled to determine Latifah's future relationship with Veronica. The court's finding that Veronica was not unfit and the evidence that may be considered when making that determination are the subjects of this appeal.
The hearing on the petition for appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to Latifah's adoption began on December 15, 1997. Caseworkers involved with Latifah's case testified and offered evidence bearing on Veronica's conduct from Latifah's birth in 1992 to the hearing in 1997.
OCTOBER 1992 TO DECEMBER 1993
Kathy Janikowski, a caseworker for Lutheran Child and Family Services (LCFS), was assigned to Latifah's case for approximately 14 months, from October 1992 until December 1993. Veronica was in an inpatient drug treatment program at Haymarket Center (Haymarket) in 1992 when Janikowski was assigned to the case. On October 28, 1992, Janikowski met with Veronica at Haymarket and discussed with her the services with which she would need to comply in order to work toward the return of her daughter. Veronica received and signed a written case plan dated October 29, 1992. The service plan required completion of drug treatment. Veronica did not complete the Haymarket program she entered in 1992, although she did complete a parental stress services parenting class on November 24, 1992. Veronica was discharged from the Haymarket program in December 1992.
After being discharged from Haymarket, Veronica was referred to other programs. During the time Janikowski was assigned to the case, Veronica told Janikowski she was attempting to get into drug treatment. At the time Janikowski left the case in December of 1993, Janikowski had no knowledge of Veronica being in drug treatment, and Janikowski had not received verification that Veronica had completed any drug treatment program.
In early February 1993, Janikowski informed Lester and Veronica that she would be requesting them to perform urine drops. Janikowski scheduled three appointments from February 25, 1993, to April 1, 1993. Veronica did not appear for any of the urine drops.
During the time Janikowski was assigned to the case, the goal was for Latifah to return home, and the parents were scheduled for visits once a week or four times a month. Sibling visits, which the parents also were allowed to attend, were scheduled once a month. Janikowski explained that from March 17, 1993, "there was a period of five months where the parents' whereabouts were unknown, and they were not calling for visits or coming for visits." The parents did arrive unannounced approximately half-way through a sibling visit in the grandmother's home on August 18, 1993.
On August 30, 1993, Janikowski received a phone call from Veronica. When Janikowski asked Veronica what had been going on, Veronica said she had been having a "very stressful time in her life." During the conversation, Janikowski explained to Veronica that she needed to resume drug treatment and visitation in order to work toward Latifah's return. When Janikowski left the case in December 1993, she was not able to recommend that ...