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People v. S.K.

May 14, 2001

IN RE F.S., A MINOR RESPONDENT-APPELLEE,
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
S.K., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice McNULTY

Not Released For Publication

IN RE F.S., A MINOR RESPONDENT-APPELLEE,
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
S.K., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice McNULTY

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

Honorable Lynne Kawamoto, Judge Presiding.

 The trial court found that the State proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that S.K. was an unfit parent for F.S. S.K. appeals from the order terminating her parental rights over F.S.

S.K. gave birth to F.S. on March 17, 1996. The trial court gave the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) temporary custody of F.S. on April 11, 1997. On August 11, 1997, the court entered its adjudication order finding F.S. neglected. The State petitioned for termination of S.K.'s parental rights in November 1998, alleging that she failed to maintain a reasonable interest in F.S.'s welfare, and she failed to make reasonable progress towards return of the child within nine months of the adjudication of neglect. The State also charged S.K. with drug addiction, but withdrew the charge before trial in light of evidence that she had overcome her addiction.

Following trial, the court entered findings against S.K. on both charges and terminated her parental rights. Using the powers granted by section 2-29(2) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-29(2) (West 1998)), the court appointed a guardian with power to consent to F.S.'s adoption. The public defender representing S.K. filed a timely notice of appeal on July 21, 1999.

We allowed the public defender two unopposed extensions of time for filing the record on appeal. In February 2000 the public defender requested a five-month extension of time for filing the appellant's brief. Although the public guardian and the State did not oppose the motion, in the interest of resolving the case quickly we granted only half of the requested extension, setting a filing date of May 8, 2000. We later granted the public defender's unopposed motion for an extension of seven more weeks. We also granted the public guardian and the State three extensions of time for filing appellees' briefs on appeal. The parties finished briefing the case on February 28, 2001, almost 20 months after the court terminated S.K.'s rights over her child.

Our supreme court, in In re D.L., 191 Ill. 2d 1, 10, 727 N.E.2d 990 (2000), held that for a charge of failure to make reasonable progress towards the return of a child, only evidence concerning the parent's conduct in the nine months following the neglect adjudication is admissible. See 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1998). Due to the differences between the evidence admissible on the two charges, we will recount the facts separately for the separate charges.

But for both charges, we bear in mind the fundamental purposes of proceedings under the Juvenile Court Act. Our supreme court has recently clarified that we should consider statutory statements of purpose in applying statutes, even if the statutes are not ambiguous. Primeco Personal Communications, L.P. v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, No. 89075, slip op. at 13 (March 29, 2001). The Juvenile Court Act states that its purposes include:

"secur[ing] for each minor subject hereto such care and guidance, preferably in his or her own home, as will serve the safety and moral, emotional, mental, and physical welfare of the minor and the best interests of the community; [and] preserv[ing] and strengthen[ing] the minor's family ties whenever possible, removing him or her from the custody of his or her parents only when his or her safety or welfare or the protection of the public cannot be adequately safeguarded without removal." 705 ILCS 405/1-2(1) (West 1998).

The statutory scheme of the Juvenile Court Act and the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/0.01 et seq. (West 1998)) "evinces twin policies favoring the superior rights of natural parents to the custody of their children and of fostering greater stability in the home environment." In re Custody of Menconi, 117 Ill. App. 3d 394, 398, 453 N.E.2d 835 (1983).

Because the termination of parental rights is a drastic action which deprives a parent of rights that are "fundamental and as ancient as mankind" (In re Custody of Townsend, 86 Ill. 2d 502, 509, 427 N.E.2d 1231 (1981)), the statutory scheme requires proof of unfitness by clear and convincing evidence. In re A.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d 903, 913, 695 N.E.2d 551 (1998). We review the facts in such cases with careful scrutiny, but we will not reverse the trial court's findings on factual issues unless the findings are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. In re M.W., 199 Ill. App. 3d 1050, 1052-53, 557 N.E.2d 959 (1990).

I.

The trial court placed F.S. in the temporary custody of DCFS based on findings that S.K. had a filthy home, a history of inadequate supervision and food, and a drug habit. The court made no new findings upon entering the adjudication order dated August 11, 1997.

S.K. was in jail on that date. DCFS had established a service plan requiring S.K. to attend parenting skills classes and to undergo treatment for drug addiction and a psychological evaluation. S.K. had requested visitation with F.S., and she had all visits DCFS permitted her in jail. She successfully completed a parenting skills class in jail shortly after the court entered the adjudication order. She also participated in the jail's program for treating drug addiction.

S.K. visited F.S. shortly after her release from jail in October 1997. The caseworker who supervised the visit noted that S.K. and F.S. "interacted appropriately. [S.K.] was very happy and loving. Child was happy and appeared to have a relationship [with] natural family."

But despite the many drug treatment programs S.K. had tried, including the one in jail, she used cocaine again shortly after her release from jail. She did not pursue DCFS services, and she did not see her child, for the following four months. In February 1998 she began a drug treatment program at Chicago Victory Church (CVC).

None of the drug counselors at CVC had professional education in treating drug addiction. All of the counselors had been drug addicts who tried treatment programs run by professionals, and those programs failed to alleviate their drug dependencies. The counselors had recovered from addiction through CVC's program instead. The counselors used the Bible to teach Christian values. For the first nine months after an addict entered the program, counselors supervised the addict 24 hours a day. A staff member accompanied the addict even when the addict opened mail or went to the bathroom. If the addict completed the first phase successfully, CVC worked with her through a second phase of helping her adjust to a more normal life.

CVC sent DCFS letters detailing S.K.'s progress in the program, and CVC invited DCFS to contact CVC for any further information DCFS might need. DCFS never requested any information. Although S.K. invited a caseworker to visit CVC, the caseworker did not do so.

By May 11, 1998, nine months after the court entered the adjudication order, S.K. had been drug-free for almost three months. One caseworker reported that S.K. had ...


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