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In re M.C.

January 12, 2006

IN RE M.C. AND T.C., MINORS
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER APPELLEE,
v.
TERRI B., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kendall County. Nos.01-JA-03 & 02-JA-11 Honorable James M. Wilson, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

Respondent, Terri B., appeals from the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her children, T.C. and M.C. We affirm.

In 2001, T.C. was adjudicated neglected, made a ward of the court, and placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). M.C., who was born in April 2002, was adjudicated neglected, made a ward of the court, and placed in the custody of DCFS in October 2002. Temporary guardianship of the minors was placed with Philip B., their maternal grandfather residing in Oswego, Illinois.

In July 2003, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Terri and the minors' father, Michael C. Michael surrendered his parental rights in June 2004 and is not party to this appeal. The cases transferred back and forth between De Kalb and Kendall Counties without any disposition of the petition as to Terri's parental rights. On March 8, 2005, the Kendall County State's Attorney's office filed a new petition to terminate Terri's parental rights. Following a hearing in June 2005, the court found Terri to be an unfit person to have a child, pursuant to section 1(D)(b) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2004)), in that she failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the minors' welfare by failing to financially support the minors or maintain contact with them. The court subsequently found that it was in the minors' best interests that Terri's parental rights be terminated and DCFS be continued as legal guardian and custodian with power to consent to the minors' adoption. This appeal followed.

Terri now contends that the trial court erred in finding that she was an unfit parent. A trial court's findings of unfitness will be reversed only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. In re Adoption of Syck, 138 Ill. 2d 255, 274 (1990).

The only witness at the hearing on parental fitness was Laurel Dutton, the foster care caseworker for T.C. and M.C. for almost four years. Dutton testified that Terri had "participated in service[s] sporadically" since 2001. Terri had satisfactorily completed only two of the eight six-month service plans that had been established for her. In Dutton's opinion, Terri had not maintained a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility for the welfare of her children. Terri saw the children "every time" that she had been in town for court dates "during the past few weeks," but she made no other efforts to contact them during that period. Terri was currently participating in treatment for drug abuse and had been since October 2004. This was Terri's second time in inpatient treatment, and she had also been involved in prior outpatient treatment.

On cross-examination, Dutton testified that Terri had been involved in inpatient drug treatment in 2000 or 2001. Dutton was unsure if Terri had been successfully discharged, because Dutton "just received the case at that time." Terri received outpatient treatment for two periods in 2002. In the first instance, Dutton was told that Terri "wasn't cooperating or attending consistently" and did not satisfactorily complete the program. Later that year, Terri attended another course of outpatient treatment but was unsatisfactorily discharged when she "went out of contact [and] withdrew from services" after several months. Terri's most recent treatment was in Peoria, Illinois. She completed the inpatient program in January 2005 and was currently in the after- care program, living in a shelter in Peoria. Dutton believed that Terri was currently employed. Terri was in the drug treatment program at the request of DCFS. When Dutton was asked whether Terri was able to see the children while she was in treatment, the following colloquy took place:

"A: [Dutton]. She was able to. Her father would have driven the children down there.

Q: Did she?

A: I don't know how many times. I know that there were times that he had offered to drive them down and she opted not to. She has seen them but it hasn't been on a regular basis.

Q: But she did see them while she was there?

A: Yes.

Q: And when did she get out of there?

A: She finished inpatient in January ...


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