Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. 89 J 6425, 90 J 9855, 90 J 9856, 90 J 9857, 91 J1 5411, 91 J1 9083, 96 JA 615 Honorable Carol Pearce McCarthy, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE.
(NUNC PRO TUNC September 26, 2000)
Following a hearing, the trial court found that respondent Bernadine C. was an unfit parent, and that it was in the best interest of her seven minor children, Barna C., Deangelo C., Detrice C., Eric C., Demetrius K., Desmetric K., and Dominitric K., to terminate her parental rights. On appeal, respondent contends that the trial court deprived her of due process when it sanctioned her for failing to appear at her termination of parental rights hearing by finding her in default and prohibiting her attorney from presenting evidence on her behalf. Respondent also contends that because she had been visiting her children for over a year at the time of the hearing, it was not in their best interest to terminate her parental rights.
Respondent's seven children, who were all born between 1985 and 1995, were taken into protective custody as a result of her ongoing substance abuse problems, her frequent abandonment of them, and her inability to exhibit appropriate parenting skills or judgment. After separate adjudication hearings, a finding of dependency was entered as to Eric C. in 1996, and findings of neglect were entered as to Barna C., DeAngelo C., Detrice C., Desmetric K., Demetrius K., and Dominitric K. in 1990 and 1992. Between 1993 and 1997, the State initiated termination of parental rights proceedings for each child due to respondent's failure to follow the case plans created by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and by the children's caseworkers.
Respondent failed to appear at the termination hearing, though the State filed a Supreme Court Rule 237(b) notice compelling her appearance. 166 Ill. 2d R. 237(b). Her attorney told the court that he had attempted to locate her, but was not able to do so. As a result, the trial court granted the State's motion to enter sanctions against respondent pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 219. 166 Ill. 2d R. 219. The trial court entered an order striking respondent's answer, finding her in default, and finding that while respondent's attorney would be able to cross-examine witnesses and give a closing argument, her attorney would not be allowed to offer witnesses on her behalf.
Rhonda Crawford testified that she worked for DCFS and was assigned to Eric and DeAngelo's cases in June 1996, and to Desmetric and Dominitric's cases in November 1997. Crawford reviewed the case files as they were assigned to her and found that DCFS became involved with the children in 1989, when respondent abandoned the three oldest children. DCFS also became involved when Barna was born testing positive for narcotics. Crawford testified that respondent was offered parenting classes, drug rehabilitation treatment, psychological evaluation, visitation with her children, and was asked to comply with random drug tests. However, respondent failed to satisfactorily complete the services offered to her, and did not complete a drug treatment program until 1997. In 1997, respondent successfully completed an inpatient drug rehabilitation program and in 1998 she completed an outpatient program. Though Crawford testified that respondent consistently visited the children in the year preceding the hearing, she said that respondent did not visit the children on a regular basis until 1998. Respondent had a history of being in and out of jail. Crawford testified that respondent failed to contact DCFS when she was in jail and did not give caseworkers her address when she was released.
Monica Lowe, a caseworker with Aunt Martha's Youth Services Center, testified that she was assigned to Barna C.'s case. Though respondent visited Barna regularly in the year leading up to the hearing, she had not maintained consistent visitation prior to that time.
Ardyth Gist, a Catholic Charities employee, testified that she was the caseworker assigned to Demetrius K. She stated that though respondent had begun visiting Demetrius just before she was assigned to the case in 1998, respondent's visitation prior to that time was never consistent.
Eric Dickerson, a caseworker with the Chicago Association for Retarded Citizens, testified that he was assigned to Detrice K.'s case from November 1993 through November 1995. During that time period, respondent never visited or attempted to contact Detrice. Nor did she participate in any of the services being offered to her through Dickerson's program.
After hearing this testimony, the trial court found respondent unfit, stating, "[t]hese are extremely old cases, 10 years. I think that's plenty of time for anybody to make some amount of progress." The court then proceeded with the best interest hearing.
Rhonda Crawford testified that Eric was living with a foster family who wished to adopt him. She testified that Eric's placement with the family was safe and appropriate, that he was very bonded to his foster parents, and that she thought it would be in Eric's best interest to terminate respondent's parental rights so that Eric's foster parents could adopt him.
Crawford said that DeAngelo was living with a relative who wished to adopt him. She testified that the placement was safe and appropriate and that DeAngelo wanted to be adopted by his foster parent. Crawford believed that it was in DeAngelo's best interest to terminate respondent's parental rights and free him for adoption.
Crawford testified that Desmetric and Dominitric were placed in separate residential facilities, due to behavioral problems. However, she said that the same relative that wished to adopt DeAngelo expressed a desire to adopt Desmetric and Dominitric and that this relative understood that both boys had behavior issues and special needs.
Donald Cutaiar, an employee of Maryville Academy, testified that Desmetric was placed in Maryville due to behavior problems. Though Cutaiar testified that Desmetric's behavior had improved slightly, he said that it fluctuated, and that he was not currently attempting to locate an adoptive placement for Desmetric. However, he ...