Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 98--JAK--011 Honorable Judith M. Brawka, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala
The minors' mother, respondent-appellant, A.S., appeals from the judgment of the circuit court of Kane County terminating her parental rights to her two minor children, Jeffrey S. and Jawann P. Respondent argues that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that it was in the best interest of the minor children to terminate her parental rights rather than establish a subsidized guardianship pursuant to section 2--27(1)(a--5) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2--27(1)(a--5) (West 2000)). We affirm.
On May 27, 1998, the minors were adjudicated neglected after A.S. stipulated that the State could present sufficient evidence to show that the minors were living in an injurious environment. The case was continued for 18 months under court supervision. On January 15, 1999, the State filed a second petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging that the minors were neglected. On January 19, 1999, the trial court placed the minors into emergency shelter care after the minors were left alone without supervision and A.S. refused to cooperate with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in developing a safety and care plan. On March 9, 1999, the minors were adjudicated neglected for the second time after A.S. stipulated that the State could present sufficient evidence to show that the minors were left alone without supervision for an unreasonable amount of time without regard for their mental or physical health, safety, or welfare (705 ILCS 405/2--3(1)(b) (West 1998)) and that she had failed to cooperate with DCFS in developing a safety and care plan. On April 13, 1999, the trial court entered a dispositional order with the permanency goal of returning the minors to their home.
On March 27, 2000, the State filed a motion for the termination of parental rights, alleging that A.S. was an unfit person because (1) she failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for removal of the minors or to make reasonable progress toward the return of the minors to her within nine months after the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1 D(m) (West 1998)); and (2) she was unable to discharge parental responsibilities, as supported by competent evidence from a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist of mental impairment, mental illness, mental retardation, or developmental disability, and there was sufficient justification to believe that the inability to discharge parental responsibilities would extend beyond a reasonable period of time (750 ILCS 50/1 D(p) (West 1998)). The motion also alleged that the minors' father, J.P., was an unfit person.
On August 3, 2001, the fitness portion of the proceedings to terminate parental rights began, and A.S. was present in court with her attorney. The hearing resumed on September 13 and 14, 2001. A.S. failed to appear on both dates. On September 27, 2001, the trial court took further evidence. In the morning session A.S. was present in court, but she was not in court for the afternoon session. The trial court found that A.S. was an unfit person as alleged in the motion for termination of parental rights. Subsequently, the trial court found that the State failed to prove that the minors' father was an unfit person.
The best interest hearing commenced on October 21, 2001. At that time Jeffrey S. was five years old and Jawann P. was almost four years old. The State called Kerri Mackowiak, a caseworker employed by Catholic Charities, who testified that she had been working with A.S. since 1996. Mackowiak indicated that when the minors were taken into shelter care in January 1999, they were placed with the paternal grandmother of one of A.S.'s older children. The minors were placed with their foster mother in February 2000. Mackowiak said that the minors had been in their foster mother's continuous care since that time.
Mackowiak further testified that she visited with the minors in their foster home monthly and indicated that they have adjusted well. Mackowiak explained that the minors were very content and comfortable in their foster home and had bonded with their foster mother and the other children in that home. Mackowiak said that the minors have friends in the neighborhood. Mackowiak also indicated that the minors sometimes referred to their foster mother by her first name and other times called her "Mom." Mackowiak said that the minors call their foster home "home" and do not call A.S.'s residence "home." According to Mackowiak, it was the foster mother's intention to adopt the minors but she would keep the minors even if they were not available for adoption.
Mackowiak indicated that the minors have monthly supervised visits with A.S. Mackowiak said that the case aides who supervised the visits indicated that there was no bond between the minors and A.S. Mackowiak also said that, during visits, A.S. brought individuals with her who were not cleared by DCFS. Mackowiak explained that the minors were quiet and solitary during visits with A.S. and that the minors did not inquire about A.S. between visits. Mackowiak also testified that the minors became withdrawn after visits with A.S.. Mackowiak said that A.S. told the minors that she loved them at visits but also called them bad names.
Mackowiak recommended that A.S.'s parental rights be terminated and that the minors remain in their foster placement. Mackowiak testified that she did not believe that the minors would benefit from continued contact with A.S.
The foster mother testified that the minors have been living with her since February 12, 2000. The foster mother indicated that the minors initially had behavior problems but have improved over time. According to the foster mother, the minors call her by her first name or "Mom." The minors get along well with the other children in the home. The minors have four or five friends on their block. The foster mother said that she would like to give the minors a permanent home for as long as they need one. The foster mother testified that the minors are quiet and misbehave after visits with A.S. The minors call A.S. by her nickname. According to the foster mother, the minors have never requested a visit with A.S. nor have they refused to visit with her. The minors, on occasion, drew pictures for A.S. and brought them to her at their visits.
A.S. testified that she was 24 years old at the time of the best interest hearing. A.S. related that, even though the court had determined that the minors could not live with her, she wanted to continue to see them. A.S. said that she loves the minors and wants to see them grow up. A.S. also said that her mother, step-dad, and two brothers also love the minors and want to see them. A.S. testified that she got upset when her visits with the minors were reduced to once a month. When A.S. sees the minors at visits she gets excited, gives them hugs and kisses, and tells them that she loves them. When the visits are over, A.S. hugs and kisses the minors and then turns around so that the minors will not see her cry.
After the close of evidence, A.S.'s counsel argued that the State had not shown that it was in the minors' best interest to terminate A.S.'s parental rights but, rather, the evidence established that a subsidized guardianship should be granted to the minors' foster mother. The guardian ad litem and the assistant State's Attorney recommended the termination of A.S.'s parental ...