Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit Tazewell County, Illinois, No. 98-JA-16. Honorable Richard D. McCoy, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater
The respondent-mother, Teresa R. (Teresa), appeals from the orders of the trial court finding her to be an unfit parent and subsequently terminating her parental rights to four-year-old C.S. and ordering subsidized guardianship for fifteen-year-old A.V. For the following reasons, we find that the State's evidence failed to establish that Teresa was an unfit parent as a matter of law. Therefore, we reverse the trial court's orders: (1) finding Teresa to be an unfit parent; (2) terminating her parental rights to C.S.; and (3) ordering subsidized guardianship for A.V.
Two of Teresa's children are the subject of this appeal. Andrew V. (A.V.) was born on June 2, 1987. Cheyenne S. (C.S.) was born on May 12, 1998. In January of 1998, Teresa picked up A.V. after a weekend visit from his father's home and observed marks and bruises on him. A.V. told Teresa that his father, Andrew S. (Andrew), had caused the bruises. Teresa then called the Department of Children and Family Services' (DCFS) hotline. At that time, Teresa was five months pregnant with C.S. C.S.'s biological father is James S. (James).
A. The First Neglect Petition
On March 30, 1998, the State filed a petition alleging that A.V. was both abused and neglected.*fn1 Counts I, II, and III of the petition alleged that Andrew abused and neglected A.V. See 705 ILCS 405/2--3(2)(ii), 2--3(1)(b), 2--3(1)(a) (West 1998). Count IV of the petition alleged that Teresa neglected A.V. because she did not provide proper care or support for him. See 705 ILCS 405/2--3--1(a) (West 1998).
B. Adjudication Order on the First Petition
On August 7, 1998, the court entered an adjudication order stating that A.V.'s father did not appear in court and was therefore found guilty of counts I, II, and III in the State's petition by default. The order noted that Teresa admitted the counts directed against A.V.'s father. However, Theresa did not admit the allegations in Count IV directed against her and the court made no finding on that count. Finally, the court found A.V. to be abused and neglected and set a date for a dispositional hearing.
C. Dispositional Hearing and Order on the First Petition
The dispositional hearing was held on October 23, 1998. At that time, Teresa had given birth to C.S. and was married to C.S.'s father, James. However, neither C.S. nor James were made parties to these proceedings.
DCFS prepared a dispositional report for the court. In the report, it referred to James' prior involvement with DCFS for alleged sexual exploitation, sexual molestation, burns by neglect, medical neglect, and lack of supervision. DCFS gave no details concerning these prior involvements. Instead, it noted that James had denied the allegations and taken a polygraph test that had proved to be inconclusive. It also noted that no criminal charges had been filed against James.
The trial court's dispositional order made A.V. a ward of the court with guardianship and custody of A.V. remaining with Teresa. In addition, although Teresa was never found to have neglected or abused A.V., she was ordered by the court to get a psychological evaluation, complete counseling, allow unannounced visits at her home by DCFS, allow A.V. to have no contact with James and to obtain an order of protection prohibiting contact "between minors and [James] with help of DCFS."*fn2
D. The Second Neglect Petition
On December 4, 1998, the State filed a second petition alleging neglect. This petition was directed toward Teresa and James and involved both A.V. and C.S. In the petition the State alleged a single count of neglect based upon an injurious environment. See 705 ILCS 405/2--3--(1)(b) (West 1998). Specifically, the State alleged that on December 1, 1998, Teresa allowed contact between C.S. and James in violation of the order of protection filed on November 13, 1998. As a result of this incident, DCFS removed the children and placed them in temporary foster care.
On June 17, 1999, the State filed an amended neglect petition. Count I repeated the allegation in the earlier petition that Teresa neglected A.V. and C.S. when she allowed contact between C.S. and James in violation of the order of protection. Count II alleged that Teresa neglected A.V. and C.S. based upon her long standing substance abuse problems. Count III alleged that the children were neglected based on Teresa's failure to protect herself from numerous abusive relationships with men.
On July 1, 1999, the trial court held a hearing on the State's amended neglect petition. At the hearing, the State moved to dismiss a portion of the allegations in count II. The trial court then dismissed counts II and III in their entirety for lack of proof.
Following dismissal of counts II and III, the trial court proceeded to hear evidence with respect to count I. Teresa testified that she had C.S. in her vehicle with her when she picked up her husband, James, at the airport on December 1, 1998. Teresa said ...