Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. Nos. 98-JA-198; 98-JA-199; 98-JA-200 Honorable Janet Clark Holmgren and Patrick L. Heaslip, Judges, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kapala
Respondent-mother, Gladys C., appeals from the judgment of the circuit court of Winnebago County terminating her parental rights to her minor children, Miracle C., Jasmine N., and Ilsheya N. Respondent-father, Illya N., appeals from the judgment terminating his parental rights to his minor children, Jasmine N. and Ilsheya N. The appeals have been consolidated in this court.
On July 15, 1998, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship alleging that Miracle C. was a neglected minor because she was born with cocaine in her urine, blood, or meconium that was not the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the child (705 ILCS 405/2--3(1)(c) (West 1998)). On the same date, the State filed petitions for adjudication of wardship alleging that Jasmine N. and Ilsheya N. were neglected minors. The State alleged that the minors' environments were injurious to their welfare because their sibling, Miracle C., was born with cocaine in her urine, blood, or meconium that was not the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the child. The record shows that respondent-mother was served with a summons and a copy of the petitions for adjudication of wardship on October 21, 1998. The petitions identified respondent-father as the father of Jasmine N. and Ilsheya N., but listed no address. Respondent-father was not served with a summons or notified of the proceedings by certified mail. Instead, respondent-father was notified of the proceedings concerning his children by a publication dated May 21, 1999. Miracle C.'s father is someone other than respondent-father and is not a party to either of these consolidated appeals.
On June 2, 1999, after a hearing on the State's petitions for adjudication of wardship, Miracle C., Jasmine N., and Ilsheya N. were adjudicated neglected minors. On the same date an order of default was entered against respondent-father. On September 1, 1999, the trial court entered a dispositional order declaring the minors wards of the court and appointing the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as their guardian. Following a permanency hearing, in an order entered on October 27, 2000, the trial court determined that the appropriate permanency goal for the minors was substitute care pending court determination of termination of parental rights.
On January 4, 2001, the State filed motions for termination of respondents' parental rights. In the motions, the State alleged in count I that respondent-mother was an "unfit person" as defined by the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1 (West 2000)) because she failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to her children's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2000)). In count II the State alleged that she failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of her children from her, or to make reasonable progress toward the return of her children to her within nine months of the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 2000)). As to respondent-father, the State alleged in count I that he was an "unfit person" because he abandoned his children (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(a) (West 2000)). In count II the State alleged that he failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to his children's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2000)). In count III the State alleged that he failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of his children from him, or to make reasonable progress toward the return of his children to him within nine months of the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 2000)). The matter was set for a January 26, 2001, first appearance on the motions to terminate parental rights.
On January 26, 2001, respondent-father appeared before the trial court for the first time. Respondent-mother was also present in court. The trial court appointed counsel for respondent-father and provided him with copies of the motions to terminate his parental rights. The appointment of respondent-mother's attorney in the previous neglect proceedings was continued. The trial court also explained to both respondents the allegations in the motions and advised them of their rights.
The motions for termination of parental rights were heard on February 28, 2002. During the fitness portion of the proceedings, the State called Kathryn Craig, a caseworker employed by Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). Craig was assigned to the minors' case at the end of September 2000. At that time, there was no documentation indicating that either respondent had completed any services. Craig said that the children were removed from a placement with their maternal grandmother and placed in traditional foster care on January 4, 2001. Craig identified four client service plans, and the plans were admitted into evidence.
Craig testified that the previous caseworker determined that respondent-father was in prison. Craig did not mail respondent-father any client service plans while he was in prison, and she did not know whether the previous caseworker had done so. Craig indicated that respondent-father had not contacted the previous caseworker. Craig testified that she first met respondent-father in court on January 26, 2001. At that time, respondent-father told Craig that he knew there had been DCFS involvement with his children but that he had not realized that the case was so serious. On January 26, 2001, Craig gave respondent-father her phone number, and respondent-father gave Craig his parents' phone number.
Craig explained that after several failed attempts to set up visits, respondent-father visited his children at the LSSI office on June 22, 2001. According to Craig, this was respondent-father's first visit with his children in nearly five years. Craig also testified that the minors' foster parents took the minors to Chicago in December 2001 to visit with respondent-father. Respondent-father did not request other visits. Craig said that respondent-father provided no financial support for the children, never requested information regarding the children's schooling or medical care, and did not send the children presents or cards at their birthdays. Craig indicated that respondent-father never requested that the children be placed with him and never contacted her to inquire as to what services he needed to complete so that placement with him could be considered. Craig also related that respondent-father refused to sign releases that would allow her to verify any previous services respondent-father had received.
Craig identified substance abuse treatment as the primary focus of respondent-mother's service plan. According to Craig, respondent-mother had not complied with substance abuse treatment. Craig related that respondent-mother finally was assessed for substance abuse treatment on November 8, 2001. Craig said that respondent-mother had not become involved in her children's lives and provided no form of support. Respondent-mother did not attend scheduled visits in February and March of 2001. Respondent-mother had telephone contact with Miracle C. in May 2001. Otherwise, she had no contact with the children from January 2001 to June 2001. Craig indicated that, since June 2001, visits with respondent-mother were more consistent and that her recent interaction with the children was appropriate.
Respondent-father testified that he is the father of Jasmine N. and Ilsheya N. According to respondent-father, he first became aware of the court proceedings concerning his children while he was in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). Respondent-father said he has served three different prison terms for a drug offense, forgery, and residential burglary. Respondent-father explained that he was released from DOC on April 18, 2000. According to respondent-father, approximately one week before his release from DOC, his DOC counselor informed him that "[his] kids was in DCFS." Respondent-father was notified of the January 26, 2001, court date by his father, who had received a telephone call from respondent-mother regarding the court date.
Respondent-father said that he never received a service plan and was not informed of his goals and objectives in his children's case. Respondent-father explained that he refused to sign releases when requested because, in contravention of their rules, he was admitted into a substance abuse program at Rosecrance treatment center in Rockford before he finished another treatment program that he had previously started. Respondent-father did not want anyone to know that he was not supposed to be in the program at Rosecrance. Respondent-father claimed that he finished a three-month inpatient substance abuse treatment program at Rosecrance. ...