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In re M.B.

July 17, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Noreen Daly, Judge Presiding.

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


Amended and released for publication July 26, 2002.

Following an adjudicatory hearing upon the petition of petitioner, the People of the State of Illinois (State), the circuit court found respondent M.B., the minor daughter of respondent, Yvette Neal, and Mark B., who is not party to this appeal, neglected and abused pursuant to section 2-3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3 (West 2000)). At a subsequent dispositional hearing, the court adjudicated M.B. a ward of the court, found respondent unfit and unable as a parent, and directed M.B. placed with the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). Respondent now appeals, challenging the circuit court's finding of unfitness. For the following reasons, we affirm.


State's Petition

On May 16, 2000, the State filed a petition seeking an order adjudicating M.B. a ward of the court on the grounds she had been neglected, abused and was dependent pursuant to sections 2-3 and 2-4 of the Act, respectively. The State's petition specifically asserted M.B. had been physically abused by her natural father Mark B. on or about May 12, 2000, when Mark B. repeatedly struck M.B. with a belt, causing significant bruising over a majority of M.B.'s body. The petition further alleged: M.B. was neglected as her living environment "was injurious to her welfare" in that she had been in prior DCFS custody following a finding of abuse or neglect against respondent; that Mark B. was no longer willing to care for his child; and that the whereabouts of respondent were unknown.

Following a temporary custody hearing, the circuit court found probable cause to conclude that M.B. was abused, neglected and dependent as alleged in the State's petition. M.B. was ordered removed from the custody of her father and placed in the temporary custody of DCFS, which was directed to prepare a case plan regarding M.B.'s situation.

Respondent's whereabouts were eventually ascertained, and following the appointment of counsel, respondent's appearance in the matter was filed on May 24, 2000.

DCFS' Initial Service Plan and Family Case Conference

Caseworker Melba Mars issued the initial service plan on July 17, 2000. The plan recited the underlying allegations of the State's petition and disclosed that Mark B., as well as his paramour, had pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the incident.

Mars' report additionally noted the past incident of abuse upon M.B. by respondent in late 1995. In this regard, the report stated respondent had been alleged, along with her then-boyfriend and now husband Lamone Neal, of physically abusing M.B. by dragging M.B. on a carpet and striking the child with a brush and belt. Respondent was further alleged to have exposed M.B. to a risk of harm in connection with allegations that Mr. Neal had sexually abused M.B.

The record establishes that an adjudicated finding of neglect and physical abuse was entered against respondent in March 1996. The case was ultimately closed on June 26, 1997, when M.B. was placed in the custody of her father. DCFS' investigation did not disclose whether any adjudicated findings of sexual abuse were made against Mr. Neal.

Mars' report recommended the family undergo services to provide M.B. with a safe and stable living environment and stated a goal of returning M.B. to respondent's custody by the end of July 2001. The report opined M.B., who is in the present custody of a maternal aunt and receiving weekly counseling, needs continued individual counseling to address separation and loss, physical and sexual abuse issues, and defiant behavior. M.B. additionally requires psychological evaluation and family therapy.

Respondent, according to the report, was involved in counseling and requires continued individual counseling, family counseling, and parenting classes. The plan reported respondent has been very involved with her daughter's therapy and has expressed a desire for reunification.

With respect to Mr. Neal, the report suggested a psychological evaluation, individual and family counseling, a substance abuse evaluation, and parenting classes. While Mr. Neal initially declined to participate in the recommended services, he ...

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