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In re Christina M.

September 26, 2002

IN RE CHRISTINA M., A MINOR
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
DEBRA T.-M., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable James M. Obbish, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hartman

UNPUBLISHED

Respondent Debra T.-M. appeals from an order of the circuit court finding that respondent's minor daughter, Christina M., was "neglected" based on a lack of necessary care, as defined in section 2-3(1)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(a) (West 2000)).

On August 1, 2000, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship regarding Christina (born January 30, 1984), alleging that she was neglected due to a lack of necessary care by respondent. *fn1 Specifically, the petition stated that on July 20, 2000, respondent locked Christina and Christina's infant daughter out of her home and to date, refuses to allow Christina to return home. The petition stated further that respondent has five other children who are or were in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) based on findings of abuse and/or neglect, and that Christina was previously a DCFS ward based on a finding of neglect. Following a hearing, the circuit court awarded temporary custody of Christina to the DCFS guardianship administrator.

At the adjudicatory hearing held on January 3, 2001, Steven Mittons, a DCFS investigator, testified that on July 20, 2000, he was called to investigate an allegation that Christina had left her child unattended at respondent's residence. He interviewed respondent, who stated that she received information that Christina had left her baby unattended at her home. Respondent called the police, and Christina was taken into custody, then released. Respondent stated that she told Christina that neither she nor her daughter could continue to reside at the home. Christina confirmed in a separate interview that she had been told to leave respondent's residence.

Mittons met with respondent again at her home and advised her that legally she could not lock her minor child, Christina, out of her residence. Respondent agreed to allow Christina to return home. Mittons brought Christina back and had a discussion with both Christina and respondent during which he and respondent tried to facilitate a care plan that would allow Christina and her child to remain in the home. The conversation "escalated into an argument" between respondent and Christina when Christina said that respondent had never been a mother to her. Respondent then "rose from her seat and stepped forward aggressively." Mittons stepped in between the two, and respondent backed away. He then removed Christina and her child from respondent's residence for safety reasons.

On July 27, 2000, Mittons interviewed respondent regarding an allegation that she had locked Christina out of the home. He said he and respondent tried to facilitate some type of care plan, and he informed her of the probability of the case being brought into court if she did not take Christina back into her home. He asked respondent if Christina could stay with another relative, but respondent was unable to recommend any family member. Respondent stated that she was not willing to allow Christina back into the home because she felt uncomfortable and believed it was best for all concerned.

On cross-examination, Mittons testified that Christina admitted leaving her baby alone at respondent's house, and she thought there would be no harm as long as the baby was asleep. Respondent told him that she previously had warned Christina numerous times about leaving the baby home alone. She had also forbade Christina from selling or using drugs or drinking alcohol in the apartment. Respondent previously had caught Christina in the apartment using drugs with fellow gang members. During Mitton's discussion with both respondent and Christina, respondent stated that she would allow Christina to return home if she followed her rules and agreed not to bring gang members to the apartment. Christina made a statement indicating that she believed her mother's rules were overbearing. After Christina expressed that she would not follow the rules, respondent said she could not remain in respondent's home. Respondent also stated that for safety reasons she was fearful of Christina being present around respondent's other daughter, Shelly.

The State then introduced certified copies of adjudicatory orders finding that Christina and three of her siblings had been abused or neglected. In 1995, Christina was found neglected because of an injurious environment. Also in 1995, Shelly was found neglected because of lack of necessary care and injurious environment. In 1996, another sibling was found neglected because of an injurious environment. A fourth sibling was found abused based on excessive corporal punishment.

During closing arguments, the State requested a finding of neglect based on an injurious environment. Respondent asked that the circuit court either dismiss the petition or enter a finding of dependency. In making its finding of neglect based on a lack of necessary care, the court noted the relevance of the other findings of neglect as to Christina and her siblings. The court found that respondent's frustration with Christina's behavior, while reasonable, did not justify her locking Christina out of the house or refusing to cooperate in arranging a care plan for Christina.

At the dispositional hearing, Rashida Fearn, a caseworker with the Chicago Child Care Society, testified that Christina was currently placed in a non-relative foster home with her 11-month-old daughter. She was attending school, and her grades had improved. Referrals had been made for her to attend parenting classes and counseling. Fearn set up a visit between respondent and Christina and referred respondent to parenting classes. Respondent refused the parenting classes, saying she had already taken those and did not need them again. Christina stated she was happy in her new placement and did not want further visits with respondent because respondent did not want Christina back in her home. Fearn spoke with respondent before the hearing, and respondent stated that it would not be reasonable to allow Christina back in her home because Christina was unwilling to follow the rules.

The circuit court adjudicated Christina a ward of the court and found respondent unable to care for, protect, train or discipline Christina for other than financial reasons alone. Respondent contends that the circuit court erred in finding Christina neglected based on a lack of necessary care. She argues that Christina should have been found a dependent minor, or, in the alternative, a minor requiring authoritative intervention.

I.

The circuit court's determination that a child is neglected is entitled to great deference on appeal and will not be overturned unless the findings of fact are against the manifest weight of the evidence. In re M.Z., 294 Ill. App. 3d 581, 691 N.E.2d 35 (1998). The State bears the burden of proving neglect by a preponderance ...


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