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In re Chyna B.

June 17, 2002

IN RE: CHYNA B., A MINOR,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES BRYANT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 01JA68 Honorable Ann A. Einhorn, Judge Presiding.

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

Released for publication.

IN RE: CHYNA B., A MINOR,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES BRYANT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 01JA68 Honorable Ann A. Einhorn, Judge Presiding.

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

Respondent father, James Bryant, appeals from the orders of the Champaign County circuit court finding his daughter, Chyna B. (born July 24, 2001), neglected, making her a ward of the court, and placing her in the custody and guardianship of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Respondent mother, Nicole Wood, is not a party to this appeal. The issues on appeal are whether (1) this appeal is moot because the proceedings against respondent father were terminated with custody and guardianship returned to him; (2) the finding that the minor was neglected was against the manifest weight of the evidence; (3) the trial court's findings in support of the removal of custody from respondent father were against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the dispositional order resulted from an abuse of discretion in that it improperly contained directives to respondent father that were wholly unrelated to the basis for the finding of neglect. We affirm.

On April 14, 2002, this court issued a rule to show cause for respondent father to demonstrate why this appeal should not be dismissed as moot because, on April 2, 2002, the proceedings against respondent father were terminated with custody and guardianship of the minor returned to him. On May 2, 2002, respondent father filed a response to the rule to show cause, and the rule and the response thereto were taken with the case. Because of the possible collateral legal consequences to respondent father in the context of juvenile proceedings (see 705 ILCS 405/2-18(3) (West 2000) (prior neglect adjudication is admissible in subsequent proceedings); 705 ILCS 405/2-33 (West 2000) (a supplemental petition may be filed reinstating wardship and reopening the case)), we agree with respondent father that this appeal should not be dismissed for mootness (see In re Christenberry, 69 Ill. App. 3d 565, 566-67, 387 N.E.2d 923, 925 (1979)).

On September 4, 2001, the State filed a petition for wardship alleging Chyna B. to be neglected on grounds that her environment was injurious to her welfare when she resided with respondent mother because (1) she was exposed to substance abuse and (2) respondent mother had failed to correct the conditions that resulted in a prior adjudication of unfitness to exercise guardianship and/or custody of the minor's sibling. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2000). Following the adjudicatory hearing conducted October 29, 2001, the trial court found count II proved, but not count I. On November 3, 2001, the court entered a written adjudicatory order finding Chyna B. a neglected minor.

Respondent first challenges the finding of neglect because it was based on the actions of only the other parent. Respondent father relies on In re S.S., 313 Ill. App. 3d 121, 728 N.E.2d 1165 (2000).

A minor is neglected if her environment is injurious to her welfare. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2000). Respondent father does not dispute that respondent mother created an injurious environment for Chyna B. Instead, he argues that a finding of neglect as to respondent mother should not be attributable to him, as no evidence suggested his neglect of the child. We disagree and find S.S. distinguishable.

In this case, the evidence presented at the adjudicatory hearing established that, in a juvenile proceeding involving an older child of respondent mother, the primary issue was respondent mother's substance abuse. As to Chyna B., DCFS child protection investigator Sheree Foley responded to the August 29, 2001, hot-line report of lack of supervision and risk of harm to Chyna B. The allegation was that respondent mother had fallen asleep or passed out while feeding the child so that the child almost fell out of her arms. Respondent mother informed Foley that she had been "clean" for the prior six months, although acknowledging that she had tested positive for cocaine in March 2001 and throughout her pregnancy. The child was born clean of drugs. Respondent mother had been required to do "drops," i.e., tests, because she was on probation. Respondent father told Foley that respondent mother had a long history of substance abuse and had been using drugs throughout the time they had been living together and caring for the child. Respondent father found the child in the arms of respondent mother, with the child screaming and almost falling out of her arms. He told Foley that respondent mother appeared to be unconscious. Foley learned that respondent father was an active, participating parent in the child's life.

Respondent father testified that, at the time of the adjudicatory hearing, he lived alone. He started going out with respondent mother about three years before, but they had an on-and-off relationship. Respondent mother told him of the pregnancy in November 2000. Respondent mother then came to stay with him for a short while and subsequently went into a rehabilitation center in Peoria for her substance abuse. In December 2000, respondent mother told him she had substance-abuse problems with cocaine. Respondent mother's rehabilitation was terminated in mid-January. Respondent mother told respondent father that she had refused to follow a directive and was discharged. In February 2001, respondent father went to Delaware to assist in caring for his ill father. He did not live with respondent mother for the entire duration of the pregnancy, but he was living with her when the child was born on July 24, 2001. He continued to live with her until the end of August 2001. After respondent mother and the child came home from the hospital, respondent father was concerned that respondent mother was having a problem with prescription drugs. One of the painkillers she was using was methadone. He noticed respondent mother was very lethargic, her mind was not sharp, and her speech was slurred on occasion. Respondent mother seemed to be "okay" most of the time that she cared for Chyna B., but most of the time he took care of the child. He had suspicions about leaving Chyna B. alone with respondent mother which later became concerns. At 1:30 a.m. on August 27, 2001, he awoke to the baby's screams. This was not crying, but a very disturbed noise. When he got to the living room, he observed respondent mother in a chair. In spite of the child's screaming, respondent mother was not awake. Respondent mother was not holding the child in a position to properly support the child's head. When the baby started to slip, respondent father ran over to grab the baby. Respondent father testified that, when he was out of the house for work, "others" were brought in to help respondent mother with the child. He usually fed and cared for the child before going to work. Respondent father had gone with respondent mother to the first appointment with the pediatrician regarding her high risk pregnancy because respondent mother had been carrying twins and had miscarried one because of cocaine abuse during the pregnancy.

Registered nurse Suzanne Eades testified that she was employed by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and was a friend of respondent mother. On random occasions, Eades would visit the respondents' home three to four times per week for one to six hours per visit. As a registered nurse, Eades was a mandated reporter and observed nothing that caused her to feel a need to report. She was present when respondent mother flushed some methadone down the toilet because she was concerned that she may be becoming addicted to methadone. That occurred sometime in August 2001. The testimony of Eades, and all other witnesses who had observed respondent father with Chyna B., indicated that respondent father was a quite capable and caring parent.

The trial court's finding of neglect will not be overturned on appeal unless it is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. In re A.P., 179 Ill. 2d 184, 204, 688 N.E.2d 642, 652 (1997). The reviewing court does not reassess witness credibility or reweigh the evidence and will not overturn the trial court's findings merely because it would have reached a ...


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