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In re Shanna W.

October 17, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Gregory O'Brien Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher


After a hearing, the circuit court found that respondent, Dorothy W., was an unfit parent to her daughter, S.W., by reason of depravity, failure to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child, and repeated incarceration. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i),(D)(m),(D)(s) (West 2002). Subsequently, after a best interests hearing, the court terminated Dorothy's parental rights. We affirm.

Shanna W. was born on May 22, 2000. Respondent is the biological mother of Shanna W. Shanna's natural father's parental rights were terminated and he is not a party to this appeal. Respondent was arrested on felony drug charges five days after Shanna was born. She has remained incarcerated throughout the entire history of this case.

Respondent came to the attention of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on February 24, 1994, when she gave birth to Shaquita, who was cocaine exposed. *fn1 On July 5, 1995, respondent gave birth to a son, Jericho, who was also exposed to cocaine. On July 14, 1995, DCFS took custody of Shaquita, Jericho, and respondent's other daughter, Sherry. On June 15, 1997, respondent gave birth to another daughter, Shanice, who was also drug-exposed. DCFS took temporary custody of Shanice on June 27, 1997.

Respondent used cocaine two days before Shanna's birth and tested positive for cocaine when Shanna was born. Shanna tested positive for syphilis at birth. On May 30, 2000, Shanna was taken into protective custody. On May 31, 2000, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship for Shanna. The petition alleged that Shanna was abused and neglected because respondent tested positive for cocaine at Shanna's birth, had three other children born with cocaine in their systems and had four children in the custody of DCFS.

On June 1, 2000, and June 13, 2000, temporary custody hearings were held. The juvenile court found probable cause to exist that Shanna was abused or neglected, and that it was a matter of immediate and urgent necessity to remove Shanna from the custody of respondent and place her temporarily in the custody of a DCFS guardianship administrator.

On December 20, 2000, the trial court conducted an adjudicatory hearing, during which evidence was presented through a stipulation of facts by all parties. The court found that Shanna had been neglected due to an injurious environment and abused due to substantial risk of physical injury under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987. (705 ILCS 405/ 2-3(1)(b),2(ii) (West 2002)). On that same date, the court conducted a dispositional hearing, adjudged Shanna a ward of the court, and appointed the DCFS guardianship administrator as her guardian with the right to place her.

Shanna is diagnosed with numerous special needs, including rigidity of the lower extremities, tibial torsion bilaterally and positional deformity of the feet with internal rotations. Shanna receives speech therapy, developmental therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. She was placed in a foster home in July 2000 with foster parents who had previously adopted one of Shanna's siblings.

On October 15, 2001, the State filed a supplemental petition to terminate respondent's parental rights to Shanna. The petition alleged, in relevant part, that respondent: (1) had failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to Shanna's welfare; (2) had behaved in a depraved manner; (3) has been an habitual drunkard/and or addicted to drugs; (4) failed to make reasonable efforts and/or progress; and (5) was incarcerated at the time the termination petition was filed, had been repeatedly incarcerated and her repeated incarceration prevented her from discharging her parental responsibilities as to Shanna.

On September 16, 2002, the trial court commenced the unfitness portion of the trial. The State began its case by entering into evidence a number of exhibits relating to respondent's older children and her felony drug convictions. The exhibits admitted by the court included three termination orders, all dated November 10, 1999, for respondent's other children, Jericho, Shaquita and Shanice. As to all three children, respondent was found unfit on the same grounds --failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, and failure to make reasonable efforts and progress under the Adoption Act. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(West 2002). The trial court then admitted the certified statements of conviction for respondent which established that she has five felony convictions for drug offenses and has been incarcerated three times.

As its first witness, the State called Wendy Barnoski. Barnoski testified that she was employed by the Children's Home and Aid Society of Illinois when she was assigned Shanna's case in May 2001. She testified that respondent was taken into custody five days after Shanna was born. Respondent has not had custody of Shanna since May 27, 2000, after Shanna was taken into protective custody. Thereafter, Shanna has been in the care and custody of her two foster parents. Shanna has special needs in that she requires physical therapy, developmental therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Shanna is also taking medication and is being monitored for low iron levels. Shanna's foster mother has received ongoing education from Shanna's various therapists. The foster mother is required to practice some of the words that were taught to Shanna, follow-up with the therapy sessions, which includes exercise for physical therapy needs, and to keep in contact with the four therapists as well as the service coordinator.

Barnoski testified that she did not believe that a person would be able to take care of a child who has Shanna's special needs without these special classes or special training. Shanna's general daily needs include routine care and transportation to day care. Barnoski opined that respondent would not be able to fulfill Shanna's special needs. She testified that respondent's incarceration has affected her ability to care for Shanna on a daily basis. Because respondent has never had custody of Shanna, she has not become familiar with Shanna's medical or therapeutic needs. Barnoski testified that she did not believe that respondent has the knowledge to care appropriately for someone who has the severe therapeutic needs that Shanna has.

Barnoski testified that her agency had previously recommended the permanency goal of substitute care pending court termination of parental rights. This recommendation had been based upon the fact that Shanna was residing in adoptive placement with her sister, who had already been adopted, and that she was very bonded to the foster parent, *fn2 Mrs. R. In addition, respondent had a date of November 2003 at which time she would get out of prison, yet, at that time, she had not completed any services.

Barnoski testified that she had an opportunity to evaluate respondent's progress in reunifying with Shanna by looking at the services respondent had completed while incarcerated. However, Barnoski was not able to evaluate what respondent might have learned or gained from the education because that information was not provided to her from the correctional center. Barnoski testified that she did have contact with the caseworker supervisor at the Decatur Correctional Center and was aware that respondent had completed a parenting class, a "recovery from addict[ive thinking]" seminar, a "lifestyle redirection" program and a substance abuse education treatment program. Barnoski did not believe the courses were sufficient education for reunification with Shanna. Further, Barnoski confirmed that respondent's incarceration made it difficult for her to take the needed services and utilize what she may have learned with Shanna.

Because respondent completed the services that were actually available to her in prison, she was deemed to be in compliance with her recommended tasks. The prison, however, did not offer the types of services ...

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