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People v. Danielle L.

November 13, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Nos. 96 JA 626, 96 JA 627, 96 JA 628, 96 JA 703 Honorable Carol McCarthy, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill.


Respondents Danielle L. and Todd S. appeal an order finding them unfit parents and terminating their parental rights. We affirm.

An adjudication of wardship was entered on October 6, 1996, as to four minor boys, D.L., A.L., T.S. and A.C. Three of the boys are the sons of respondent-mother Danielle L. and Jesse C., now deceased. A fourth boy is the son of Danielle and respondent-father Todd L. The petitions for adjudication were filed by the State on February 2 and 7, 1996, alleging that the children were abused or neglected based on a lack of care and exposure to an injurious environment. The juvenile court found that Danielle did not provide a medical card for one child and failed to enroll two other children in school, both respondents engaged in domestic violence, Danielle abused drugs, and Todd hit one of the children on the head, causing the child to hit a wall. The children were placed in the temporary custody of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). An order of protection entered on December 12, 1996, allowed Danielle unsupervised visits from two to eight hours per week and ordered Danielle to participate in counseling and follow all recommendations. The case was then continued several times for a permanency plan hearing.

A permanency plan hearing was held on July 8, 1998. The DCFS caseworker and guardian ad litem recommended the goal of "substitute care." The public defender recommended that the children ultimately be returned home. The hearing officer recommended substitute care at the close of the hearing. The public defender filed a written objection to the hearing officer's recommendation.

The State filed a petition to terminate respondents' parental rights and appoint a guardian to consent to the adoption of the children on July 1, 1998. The petition alleged that Danielle was unfit under section 1(D) of the Adoption Act for failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility, deserting the children in the three months preceding the termination petition, and for failing to make reasonable efforts within nine months of adjudication. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (D)(m), (D)(m) (West 1998). The petition alleged that Todd was unfit as to his son for failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility and for failing to make reasonable efforts within nine months of adjudication. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (D)(c) (West 1998). The public guardian joined the State's petition.

A termination hearing was held on November 9, 1999. Todd was the State's first witness. Todd testified he was T.S.'s natural father. Todd said he was incarcerated on July 6, 1996, and has a February 6, 2001, expected release date.

Derrick Lindsay, a DCFS case manager, next testified for the State. Lindsay said he became involved in the case in June 1997 and that he was officially assigned the case on September 8, 1997. Lindsay explained that the case originally came into the DCFS system in December 1995, on allegations of a dirty house. The children were taken into DCFS custody in February 1996, when it was learned that the medical needs of one of the children were not being met. Underlying issues of domestic violence and drug abuse were also raised at this time.

Lindsay testified that the case record showed that, between October 1996 and July 1997, Danielle completed a parenting and drug assessment but had not completed the recommended individual therapy. Lindsay performed a social assessment in September 1997, after officially being assigned the case, to determine what services Danielle still needed. Lindsay's assessment revealed an earlier overlooked anger-management problem. Lindsay then referred Danielle for counseling to address anger management and domestic violence. The provider required Danielle to undergo an additional assessment to better ascertain what services she required. Danielle underwent the additional assessment in November 1997, resulting in a recommendation for individual counseling, a psychiatric evaluation and supervised visits with the children. Danielle's supervised visits with A.C. were suspended in December 1997, after Danielle swore at him, causing the child to hit his head and bite himself.

Lindsay testified that Danielle's weekly supervised visits became sporadic in December 1997. Lindsay said that there were no supervised visits between April 1998 and July 1998. Lindsay also testified that Danielle failed to complete the services recommended by the latest evaluation. Therapy was discontinued by one provider because of Danielle's sporadic behavior. Therapy from another provider was delayed because Danielle was in jail for allegedly throwing hot grease in a man's face. Lindsay referred Danielle to a parenting assessment team in July 1998. Services began in September 1998. Lindsay said that the only time Danielle demonstrated proper parenting skills was when the assessment team came to her home and videotaped her with the children. Lindsay said that Danielle knew she was being taped. Both Lindsay and the team agreed that the children would still be at risk for maltreatment despite Danielle's good behavior during the videotaped session.

Lindsay said that Danielle never completed counseling and never fully addressed her anger-management problem. Lindsay referred to an outburst in court where Danielle verbally assaulted her attorney, a sheriffs' deputy and the juvenile court judge. Lindsay also concluded that Danielle failed to address the underlying issues that gave rise to these proceedings, leaving her children at risk for maltreatment.

Lindsay testified that Todd was incarcerated when Lindsay became involved in the case. Lindsay said he contacted the warden and Todd's counselor . He told them that he wanted Todd to undergo a drug treatment program and psychological assessment. Lindsay was told that Todd had to ask for these services from his counselor. Lindsay understood this to mean that he could not order services for Todd. Todd did not ask for services and completed no services between October 1996 and July 1998. There was proof that Todd participated in a drug treatment program, but not that he had completed it. The only visitation Todd had with his son was in court. No other visits were arranged. Lindsay said that Todd did not ask to see his son or have pictures sent.

Kathleen Pesek testified for the State without objection as a child welfare expert. Pesek was a member of the parenting assessment team that observed Danielle's interaction with the children in her home. Pesek testified that a parenting assessment included the parents seeing a psychiatrist, the parents and children seeing a psychologist, a social worker in the home, and a child development specialist to review all the records. Pesek said the assessment here was completed in January 1999. Pesek interviewed Danielle and concluded that she failed to "appreciate her children's needs" and did not understand the reasons she lost custody. Pesek said that, although Danielle had been in counseling since 1996, there has been no difference in her parenting ability. Pesek conceded on cross-examination that no further recommendations were made. Pesek also conceded that the videotaped observation was made after the goal for termination of parental rights had been set. Pesek admitted that there was only one such observation, which lasted about an hour.

The State then made a motion to amend the petition to include an allegation of unfitness under section 1(D)(r) of the Adoption Act against Todd. This section allows an unfitness finding when a parent is incarcerated at the time the petition for termination is filed, the parent had little or no contact with the child before incarceration, and the incarceration will prevent the parent from discharging parental responsibilities for more than two years after the filing of a termination petition. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(r) (West 1998). The court allowed the amendment over Todd's ...

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