Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Mark J. Lopez, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson
Deshawn F. and Danella F. were taken from their mother, Lashawn F., and placed in foster care after their well-being came to the attention of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
At an adjudicatory hearing, the trial court found the children were abused and neglected and, at the dispositional hearing, adjudged them wards of the court. Then, after an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found Lashawn was an unfit parent on the following grounds: (1) she failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of the children within nine months after the adjudication of abuse and neglect, and (2) she failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the children within the same time period.
Lashawn appeals the trial court's judgment, contending the trial court applied the wrong time periods in evaluating both her efforts and her progress. According to Lashawn, when we consider the proper time periods we should conclude the trial court's findings are against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
Deshawn was born on March 27, 1994, and Danella was born on July 25, 1992. Both children tested positive for cocaine shortly after birth. Deshawn was also treated for syphilis. DCFS was notified about the family after Deshawn was born.
On January 18, 1995, the State filed petitions to adjudicate Danella and Deshawn wards of the court and moved to place the children in the temporary custody of the DCFS guardianship administrator. The court found probable cause existed that the children were abused and neglected, and placed them in temporary custody.
The trial court held the adjudicatory hearing on June 16, 1995. At the hearing, Mark Kolp, a paramedic for the Chicago Police Department, testified he responded to a 911 call on September 15, 1994. Lashawn made the call for an ambulance to take Deshawn to the hospital. When Kolp questioned Lashawn, Lashawn responded she had just returned home after being away for four hours during which time she "was drinking and smoking reefer." Kolp was also able to learn from Lashawn that Deshawn was "a cocaine baby."
During the ride to the hospital, Kolp observed Lashawn shaking and unable to maintain a thought. He also noticed both Lashawn and the child were unclean and unkempt. Kolp said he believed he told Lashawn he intended to contact DCFS out of concern for Lashawn's ability to care for Deshawn.
DCFS Investigator Levelle Kimble testified he investigated Lashawn's residence on September 15, 1994. During the visit, he observed roaches in the home and that the home was "very untidy." On January 12, 1995, Kimble again visited Lashawn, this time at a new residence. During this visit, Kimble observed the home had roaches and was not adequately clean and the children were dirty.
The State then introduced evidence that both Danella and Deshawn tested positive for the presence of cocaine metabolites in their system shortly after birth. The State also introduced a report indicating Lashawn was admitted to the hospital after complaining of hearing voices. Lashawn was diagnosed as having "Access 1 major depression with psychotic features" and discharged on November 19, 1994, with medication.
Lashawn then introduced a report prepared by a doctor at the hospital where Deshawn was treated on September 15, 1994. In the report, the doctor disagreed with an assessment that Lashawn was unable to care for Deshawn. According to the doctor's report, Lashawn appeared well-bonded to Deshawn.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found "that the minors are neglected as to controlled substance as well as injurious environment and that they are abused in that they have been subjected to substantial risk of harm."
At the dispositional hearing on February 14, 1996, the trial court again heard how the case came to the attention of DCFS. Derrick Cargle, the DCFS case worker assigned to this case in November 1994, also testified Lashawn had a service plan available to her that included recommendations to follow up on drug rehabilitation referrals and complete a psychological evaluation and special clinical services requirements. Lashawn did not comply with the service plan. She only completed one of the "psychologicals" and two initial screenings (presumably for drug treatment programs), but failed to follow up with those services. Lashawn's reason for not participating in services was that she had no transportation. But Cargle testified he agreed to provide her with tokens.
Cargle also testified the children were currently placed with Lorelle Boyce, their great-aunt, and that the children were doing well there. Lashawn visited them only sporadically. Cargle recommended the court take guardianship of Danella and Deshawn. He did not recommend any unsupervised contact between Lashawn and the children.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found it in the best interests of the children to adjudge them wards of the court. The court found Lashawn unable to care for, protect, train, or discipline the children. The children were allowed to remain with Boyce.
On November 1, 1999, the State filed supplemental petitions for the appointment of a guardian with right to consent to the adoption of the minors. The petitions contained numerous grounds of parental unfitness, including:
"[Lashawn] failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for the removal of the child[ren] from [her] within 9 months after the adjudication of neglect or abuse under the Juvenile Court Act *** which conduct is in violation of 750 ILCS 50/1D(m) ***. and/or
[Lashawn] failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child[ren] to [her] within 9 months after the adjudication of neglect or abuse under the Juvenile Court Act *** which conduct is in violation of 750 ILCS 50/1D(m) ***."
On August 18, 2000, the hearing to determine whether Lashawn was a fit parent began. The trial court heard testimony from several case workers and Lashawn. The parties also introduced into evidence various documents, including service plans prepared and evaluated by the case workers that documented, among other things, Lashawn's cooperation with the case workers' recommendations.
On December 1, 2000, the court found Lashawn was unfit because "she *** failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for the removal of the child[ren from her] within nine months after the adjudication [of] neglect or abuse under the Juvenile Court Act and *** failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child[ren to her] within nine months after the adjudication of neglect or abuse under the Juvenile Court Act. ***"
The court also said the relevant time period to assess Lashawn's efforts and progress was from June 15, 1995 -- the date the children were adjudicated neglected and abused -- to March 15, 1996. The record indicates the actual date the children were adjudicated neglected was June 16, 1995.
On January 30, 2001, the court held a hearing on whether it was in the best interests of the children to terminate Lashawn's parental rights. The court heard testimony from Carla Wages, Lashawn's case worker at the time; Boyce; Lashawn; and Edwina Hood, Lashawn's sister and a potential adoptive parent. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ...