Appeal from Minors, Circuit Court Champaign County Honorable Richard P. Klaus, Judge Presiding. No. 10JA36
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Pope
JUSTICE POPE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion:
At an August 4, 2010, dispositional hearing in a juvenile neglect case involving three children, the trial court found respondent grandmother, Marlene Long, who was a party to this case because of her status as the legal guardian for two of the children, unable for reasons other than financial circumstances alone to care for, protect, train, or discipline the two children. The court further found the health, safety, and best interests of these two minors would be jeopardized if they remained in her custody.
The trial court removed guardianship over the two children from Long and gave their custody and guardianship to the guardianship administrator of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The court then dismissed Long as a party from the case and discharged her court-appointed counsel.
Long appeals, arguing the trial court erred in dismissing her as a party from the case, which resulted in her being denied services to become able to exercise guardianship over the two children. Long makes no arguments regarding the court's determination it was in the children's best interest to place them in the guardianship of DCFS. We reverse the trial court's dismissal of Long as a party to this case.
In May 2010, the State filed a petition for adjudication of neglect and shelter care on behalf of C.C. (born May 22, 2002), So. C. (born February 22, 2006), and Sa. C. (born April 4, 2009). This appeal involves only C.C. and So. C. The petition named Jacqueline Camfield, mother of C.C. and So. C.; Cyrus Wildman, putative father of C.C. and So. C.; and Marlene Long, guardian of C.C. and So. C. According to the petition, Long was awarded guardianship of C.C. in an abuse-neglect case in Piatt County (case No. 04-JA-1). Respondent received guardianship of So. C. on May 23, 2007, in Piatt County case No. 07-P-20. Count III of the State's petition alleged that C.C. and So. C. were neglected pursuant to section 2-3(1)(b) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2008)) because residing with respondent was injurious to their welfare. This count alleged respondent left the children in the care of an inappropriate caregiver. That inappropriate caregiver was their mother, Jacqueline Camfield. In May 2010, the trial court appointed a special advocate (CASA) as guardian ad litem for the minors.
A shelter-care report prepared on May 5, 2010, by a child protection investigator noted DCFS was called on May 2, 2010. The caller stated Sa. C. (the third child, who is not at issue in this appeal) was at risk for harm. The reporter alleged Camfield and her paramour were involved in a domestic dispute, which started when the paramour tried to stop Camfield from leaving to buy cocaine while Sa. C. was asleep upstairs.
The investigator noted she questioned Camfield about Long's role with the children. Camfield stated Long was C.C. and So. C.'s legal guardian, but Camfield took care of the children on weekends and after school until Long got off work. The investigator spoke with Camfield's father about her concerns for his grandchildren. The investigator informed Camfield's father of the five prior indicated reports, which all involved substance abuse and domestic violence.
Camfield's father stated he had taken Sa. C. after his daughter's arrest. He said he was concerned Long would return C.C. and So. C. to Camfield as soon as she was released from jail. According to the report:
"[Camfield's father] advised he is concerned about [Long's] inability to keep the children safe. He indicated she has a kind heart, but, she continues to allow their daughter, to take care of [C.C.] and [So. C.] while she works despite her knowledge of [Camfield's] substance abuse issues. He again reiterated that as soon as their daughter got out of jail, [Long] allowed their daughter to take care of [So. C.] and [C.C.]. [Camfield's father] and his wife indicated [Long] had recently contacted them and asked them to care for the children as well. He advised he was very concerned that should some intervention not be taken, [So. C.] and [C.C.] did not stand a chance in life."
The investigator noted in the report protective custody was taken of the children from Long because (1) Camfield had lived with respondent for extended periods of time and had used alcohol and engaged in behavior that put the children at risk, and (2) Long had allowed Camfield to take care of the children even though she knew about Camfield's substance-abuse problems.
Long told the investigator she had been a stable caregiver for C.C. and So. C. since they were infants and had never allowed drugs or alcohol in her home. While Long admitted she knew about Camfield's substance-abuse issues, Camfield drank and abused drugs elsewhere. Long stated she had always been the children's caregiver. Long told the investigator Camfield picked the children up from school and watched them until Long got home from work. Long indicated she was the person who first turned her daughter in to DCFS. Long informed the investigator Camfield was no longer welcome to live in Long's home and she had no room for Camfield after downsizing her home.
The report noted Cyrus Wildman, father of C.C. and So. C., had signed a consent making Long the guardian of C.C. and So. C. He had no contact with the children. However, Wildman's wife told the investigator they had been trying to get in touch with the children, but no one would return their calls.
The investigator recommended C.C. and So. C. be placed in the temporary custody of DCFS. On May 6, 2010, the trial court placed temporary custody of the children with the guardianship administrator for DCFS. The court granted Camfield, Wildman, and Long supervised visitation with the children.
At a July 7, 2010, hearing, Camfield stipulated to count II of the petition for adjudication of neglect; Wildman waived his right to an adjudicatory hearing; and Long stipulated to count III of the petition. Long waived adjudication.
In August 2010, the CASA filed a dispositional-hearing report. The report noted C.C. and So. C. were currently in relative foster placement with their paternal grandfather and his wife. The children had separate weekly supervised visits with Camfield and Long. The report noted C.C. and So. C. were healthy and well-groomed, appropriately developed for their age, and had no apparent physical problems.
The report noted Camfield was unemployed and had entered a 30-day treatment program in Charleston, was attending Narcotics Anonymous, and had a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor. The CASA noted Camfield stated she wanted to parent her children and was willing to make the necessary changes in her life to be able to do so. Camfield said her mother made it too easy for her not to parent her children. According to the report, Camfield had no physical or medical limitations preventing her from parenting.
The report indicated Cyrus Wildman had little interaction with the children. Wildman had convictions for possesion of Ritalin, possession of cannabis, and possession of paraphernalia. Wildman had also been incarcerated. He currently worked as a general laborer and machine operator and lived in Monticello. Wildman claimed he did not parent the children because of his time in prison, his time working in Pennsylvania, Long's refusal to grant visitation, his inability to afford an attorney to pursue his parental rights, and the fact the children lived in Mississippi with Camfield and Long for two years.
The CASA listed the following concerns in her report:
"The co-dependent relationship of Marlene Long and [Camfield] has promoted, condoned and enabled [Camfield's] continued substance abuse. [Camfield] is unemployed, has no transportation and has not lived independently from her mother as a full[-]time parent to her children since their births. She has not demonstrated a willingness to parent, to assume guardianship of her children[,] or to make the choice to abstain from substance abuse. Nor, does it seem, has Marlene Long promoted her daughter's inde- pendence.
Cyrus Wildman currently holds a full [-]time job. He is actively participating in his own intact family. He admits the error of his past choices. He has recently moved into different housing to accommodate the possibility of his two children having visits or living with him. Cyrus admits to owing $30,000 in back child support for [C.C.] and [So. C.]. He is underemployed in an unstable economy but appears motivated to work hard. He has recently undergone an [e]valuation for [s]ubstance [a]buse at Piatt County Mental Health and submitted a drug screen. The results are pending as of the date of this report. Cyrus states he does not use any drugs and only occasionally has a beer. There remains, however, that [C.C.] and [So. C.] are not well bonded with their father. They have had limited visitations with their father. They have never even had an overnight visit with him.
Although this hearing will address the immediate issue of guardianship, the future permanency goal must be considered in advance. With two biological parents able and supposedly willing to parent this impending permanency goal for [C.C.] and [So. C.] must consider a 'return home to a biological parent' as a first choice placement. If neither biological parent is able or willing to parent, then an alternate or substitute parent must then be considered.
The impending permanency goal to be considered does not allow 'return home to grandmother.' If, at the [d]ispositional hearing or at a future permanency hearing, neither parent wishes to assert parental rights to parent or if neither parent has made reasonable effort to meet parenting goals, then a substitute parent, such as grandmother, can be considered.
At the present point, however, it weighs upon both the biological parents of [C.C.] and [So. C.], Jackie Camfield and Cyrus Wildman, *** to demonstrate willingness to parent with conviction and application. A return to grandmother's guardianship may well become a reality in the lives of these children. In that case, the cyclical pattern already established of mother and grandmother codependence will again take place."
The CASA recommended the trial court take guardianship and wardship of the three minor children at issue and place them in the custody of DCFS. The CASA also recommended the trial court remove Long as C.C. and So. C.'s guardian and dismiss her as a party in the case. In addition, the CASA recommended Long's ...