Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 05 JA 1253-55 Honorable Maxwell Griffin, Jr., Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Hall
PRESIDING JUSTICE HALL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Lampkin and Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.
The minor respondents, Vicente G., Reyna G. and America G., appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County granting the motion of the petitioner, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), to terminate DCFS's guardianship of the minors. The court's order also terminated wardship and closed the minors' cases. On appeal, the minors contend that the court erred when it granted DCFS's motion without making written findings that the termination of guardianship was in the best interest of the minors. The minors further contend that DCFS's procedural rule was not a valid basis for termination of its guardianship.
There is no dispute as to the relevant facts of this case. On December 7, 2005, DCFS took protective custody of 14-month-old Vicente, 2-year-old Reyna and 5-year-old America, based on allegations that the minors' father, Vicente G., Sr. (Vicente, Sr.), had fondled America's vagina. Following a hearing on April 5, 2006, the court found the evidence insufficient to establish sexual abuse but sufficient to establish neglect based on evidence that they were living in an injurious environment. Following a dispositional hearing, the court found that it was in the best interest of the minors that they be adjudged wards of the court and appointed D. Jean Ortega-Pion, DCFS's guardianship administrator, as the minors' guardian with the right to place them. The court further found that Sandra and Vicente, Sr.,*fn1 the minors' parents, were unable to care for, protect, train or discipline the minors and that it was in the minors' best interest to remove them from the parents' custody.
In the subsequent months, Sandra attended parenting classes and
otherwise complied with DCFS's service plan. On January 17, 2007,
following a hearing, the court granted Sandra's motion for
unsupervised day visits with the minors. On July 31, 2007,
court granted Sandra's motion for unsupervised overnight
visitation. At the hearing on the motion, Ms. Reyes, the caseworker,
testified that Sandra was still in need of family counseling. Reyna
and Vicente did not have special needs, but America needed individual
counseling. Ms. Reyes did agree that it was in the best interest of
the minors that they have unsupervised overnights visits with Sandra.
In granting Sandra's motion, the court ordered that a child
endangerment risk assessment protocol (CERAP) be performed prior to
the first overnight visit.
On October 19, 2007, a permanency planning hearing was conducted; Sandra was not present. Ms. Reyes testified that Reyna had told her that Vicente, Sr., was present in Sandra's residence. Ms. Reyes made several visits to Sandra's residence but found no evidence of his return. According to Sandra, Vicente, Sr., had returned to Mexico. Subsequently, Ms. Reyes discovered that Sandra had given birth to another child on September 8, 2007. The baby and its father (not Vicente, Sr.) did not live with Sandra, but the father was present when the minors visited Sandra. The overnight visits were suspended, but weekend visitation continued.
While Ms. Reyes reported that the minors were still doing well, the court expressed concern that some of the minors' evaluations were still lacking and that America was still waiting for therapy. The court was also concerned about the implications from Sandra's unreported pregnancy and the regular presence of the new baby's father in her residence. The court ordered the minors' cases to be returned to court each month until it was satisfied that progress was being made. The case was continued to November 19, 2007, for a permanency hearing and to set a goal for the minors' placement.
In November 2007, following a visit, Sandra and the minors disappeared. The court issued child protection warrants. In subsequent proceedings, Sandra was held in indirect civil contempt of court, and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest. DCFS continued its efforts to locate the minors and Sandra.
On January 8, 2009, a permanency planning hearing was held. The court entered a goal of a return home in 12 months. The court found that DCFS had made reasonable efforts to locate the family and deferred any finding regarding the minors' placement. The court further found that neither Sandra nor Vicente, Sr., had made substantial progress toward return of the minors to them. Following a number of status hearings, DCFS filed a motion to discharge its guardianship of the minors.
On August 20, 2010, the court heard arguments on DCFS's motion to terminate guardianship. On behalf of the minors, the public guardian argued that the guardianships should not be terminated. She pointed out that, if the guardianships were terminated, the child protection warrants and any other orders entered for the minors' protection and safety would end.
Moreover, if DCFS was no longer their guardian, then the minors' custody would revert to Sandra, even though there had been no hearing to determine her fitness to have the minors returned to her. The public guardian further argued that, in order to close the case, the court must make written findings that the closing was in the best interest of the minors. Finally, the public guardian argued that the DCFS procedural rule, under which it could terminate services and close a case if the family's whereabouts are ...