Appeal from Circuit Court of Macon County No. 94J275 Honorable Scott B. Diamond, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Turner
In June 1998, the State filed a supplemental petition seeking a finding of unfitness and the termination of the parental rights of respondent, Brandy Brown, regarding her minor child, Tashika F. (born in July 1991). In August 2001, the State filed an amended motion. After a hearing that same month, the trial court found respondent unfit. In February 2002, the trial court determined it would be in the child's best interest to terminate respondent's parental rights. Respondent appeals, asserting (1) the trial court erred in denying respondent's motion for continuance, and (2) the trial court's decision to terminate parental rights was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.
In October 1994, the Macon County circuit court adjudicated Tashika neglected and entered a dispositional order, making her a ward of the court and appointing the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as her guardian.
In June 1998, the State filed a supplemental petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, alleging respondent was an unfit parent because she (1) had a habitual addiction to drugs, other than those prescribed by a physician, for the past 12 months (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(k) (West Supp. 1997)); (2) failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the child's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West Supp. 1997)); (3) failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis of the removal of the child from her and to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child within 12 months after the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West Supp. 1997) (within 9 months)); and (4) had demonstrated an intent to forego her parental rights or interest as manifested by her failure for a period of 12 months to visit the child, communicate with the child, maintain any contact or plan for the child's future, and make any good-faith effort to provide a reasonable amount for the financial support of the child (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(n) (West Supp. 1997)).
On August 2, 2001, the State filed an amended petition, contending respondent was an unfit parent because she (1) failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the child's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2000)); (2) had been habitually drunk or addicted to drugs, other than those prescribed by a physician, for at least one year immediately prior to the commencement of the unfitness proceeding (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(k) (West 2000)); (3) had failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of the child (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(i) (West 2000)); and (4) had failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child to her during any nine months after the initial nine-month period following an adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(iii) (West 2000)).
On August 16, 2001, the trial court held a hearing on the State's petition. At the beginning of the hearing, respondent requested the court to continue the hearing because her lawyer had not shown an interest in her. Respondent's attorney asserted respondent had been sent a letter dated February 23, 2001, (1) indicating she had been appointed as respondent's attorney, (2) providing the attorney's address and telephone number, and (3) informing respondent of an April 4, 2001, status hearing. When respondent did not appear on April 4, respondent's attorney sent respondent a letter informing respondent that, if she did not appear on May 2, 2001, her parental rights could be terminated. Respondent appeared late to the May 2, 2001, hearing, and the trial court set the August 16, 2001, hearing date for the petition with respondent present. Respondent's attorney sent respondent another letter informing her of the August 16, 2001, hearing date and urging respondent to contact the attorney's office as soon as possible. According to respondent's attorney, an appointment was set for August 10, 2001, and respondent failed to appear. Respondent's attorney noted she was not prepared for respondent's hearing.
The State noted it had been trying to have a hearing on the petition since 1998, and respondent had a history of failing to appear in court and not cooperating with her attorneys. The guardian ad litem argued the case had been going on for seven years and permanency for the child was needed. The guardian further asserted that respondent had been standing in the way of the proceeding for the last two years.
The trial court denied respondent's motion and held the unfitness hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found respondent unfit under sections 1(D)(b), 1(D)(m)(i), and 1(D)(m)(iii) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (D)(m)(i), (D)(m)(iii) (West 2000)).
In February 2002, the trial court held a best interest hearing. Nancy Jorgesen, an adoption worker at the Baby Fold, testified she had been involved with Tashika's case since July 1999. According to Jorgesen, Tashika had many health problems, learning disabilities, and developmental delays that place her in a trainable mentally handicapped range. Jorgesen had been looking for an adoptive home for Tashika for approximately a year and a half but had not been successful in finding an adoptive home. Jorgesen opined a possibility of adoption for Tashika did exist but the outlook was "not real positive." Jorgesen would not place Tashika with a family that had younger children because Tashika tended to bully younger children. She believed that continued family contact was important for Tashika because she was close to her grandmother and sister. Jorgesen testified no connection between Tashika and respondent existed.
Mary Fraelle, a caseworker with the Baby Fold, testified she had been Tashika's caseworker since March 2000. Fraelle stated Tashika does recognize respondent but considers respondent as her sister's mother. If respondent's parental rights were terminated, Fraelle would allow visits between Tashika and her grandmother and sister to continue.
Respondent presented the testimony of her mother, Vivian Goodman. Goodman testified she had monthly visits with Tashika. Tashika did recognize respondent but considered whoever she was living with as her mother. Goodman testified she was interested in adopting Tashika.
Respondent testified she has two other children, aged two and seven, living with her. The older child gets along well with Tashika. The younger child has only met Tashika once but asks about Tashika. Respondent indicated she wanted Tashika back home with her and could meet her special needs.
In closing arguments, the guardian ad litem asserted it was not in Tashika's best interest to have respondent's rights terminated. The trial court found it was in Tashika's best interest that respondent's ...