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In Re: A.L., A Minor v. Alyssa Mayfield

April 14, 2011

IN RE: A.L., A MINOR,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
ALYSSA MAYFIELD, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Schuyler County No. 08JA1 HonorableAlesia A. McMillen, ) Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Knecht and Justice McCullough concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

In July 2010, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent, Alyssa Mayfield, as to her daughter, A.L. (born February 10, 2007). Following a November 2010 hearing, the trial court found respondent unfit. Immediately thereafter, the court conducted a best-interest hearing and determined that terminating respondent's parental rights would be in A.L.'s best interest.

Respondent appeals, arguing only that the trial court's fitness findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree and affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Circumstances That Prompted the State's Motion To Terminate Respondent's Parental Rights

In June 2008, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging that A.L. was a neglected minor in that her environment was injurious to her welfare (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2008)). The State's petition was based on (1) respondent's admission that she smoked cannabis on a daily basis and (2) domestic-violence incidents that occurred between respondent and A.L.'s biological father, Slade Logan.

Prior to the start of a July 2008 adjudicatory hearing, the State informed the trial court that an agreement had been reached. Under the terms of the agreement, respondent admitted that she had unresolved drug-abuse and domestic-violence issues as alleged by the State. In exchange, the State (1) moved to continue its petition for adjudication of wardship and (2) recommended that respondent regain custody of A.L. subject to (a) supervision by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and (b) respondent's completion of specific requirements.

After confirming that (1) respondent's admission was knowing and voluntary and (2) a factual basis existed, the trial court accepted the agreement. Thereafter, the court entered an agreed order of continuance under supervision, which continued the State's petition for adjudication of wardship until July 2009. In addition, the court's order mandated that respondent (1) cooperate with DCFS to include compliance with client-service-plan goals; (2) keep DCFS informed of her current address; (3) undergo evaluations, complete counseling, and sign releases for information as DCFS requests; (4) submit to random drug tests as DCFS directs; (5) discontinue any contact with Logan until further notice; and (6) comply with mental-health, substance-abuse, and domestic-violence counseling.

Following a September 2008 review hearing, the trial court found that respondent failed to comply with the court's agreed order of continuance under supervision, noting that despite respondent's compliance with counseling services and three negative drug tests, respondent admitted that she smoked cannabis once. After sternly admonishing respondent that continued drug use would result in removal of A.L. from her custody and the subsequent termination of her parental rights, the court determined that respondent should maintain custody of A.L.

In October 2008, the State filed a petition to revoke continuance under supervision, alleging that respondent violated the trial court's order by traveling in a car with Logan and failing to report that contact to her caseworker. At a November 5, 2008, hearing on the State's petition, respondent admitted that she failed to comply with the court's order. In response, the court entered an order that (1) granted the State's petition,

(2) appointed DCFS as A.L.'s temporary guardian, and (3) scheduled a dispositional hearing.

On November 20, 2008, Susan Pierce, respondent's caseworker, filed a dispositional hearing report, noting that respondent (1) was complying with her counseling and client-service-plan goals, (2) tested negative on a random drug-screening test, and (3) maintained her visitation schedule with A.L.

The following day, the trial court conducted a dispositional hearing where Pierce testified consistent with her report findings, which she stated were based on conversations she had with two of respondent's counselors. Pierce recommended that A.L. return to respondent's care contingent upon her continued cooperation with services. Prior to announcing its judgment, the court stated the following:

"And 15 days ago we were in this courtroom, and [the court] heard *** evidence, unrebutted, about what had been going on. *** [T]here was an admission to the Petition for Adjudication of Wardship. But even since then [respondent was] absolutely ignoring the orders of the court ***. *** [Respondent] had used drugs, as well as broken the no-contact rule ***. And yet 15 days later, all this has magically changed[?] *** [F]or that kind of dramatic turnaround in 15 days, [the court would] think [it would] have a *** piece of paper with somebody's signature on it *** explaining to [the court] exactly why [respondent was] able to make that dramatic of a change. People's personalities and the problems they have with their behavior don't change in 15 days."

Thereafter the court entered a dispositional order, (1) adjudicating A.L. a ward of the court, (2) maintaining DCFS as her guardian, (3) granting respondent unsupervised, overnight visita- tion on the weekends and one weekday, and (4) setting a permanency goal of "return home within 12 months."

At a January 2009 status review hearing, the trial court considered a status hearing report prepared by a DCFS contractor that showed respondent reported she was living with a "boyfriend," which prompted the following exchange:

"THE COURT: ***

You have somebody in your home *** living with you[? The court] couldn't get a straight read from the report, because [the court does not] think you were *** forthcoming with the [caseworker] about what that situation is, but you've got somebody in the home now who's a convicted felon, multiple times convicted of drug use, and this is a person that you think is appropriate to have in your home when [A.L.] is there?

[RESPONDENT]: Apparently not."

Following the hearing, the court entered an order, finding that respondent was not in compliance with its November 2008 dispositional order despite respondent's counseling participation and negative drug-screening test results. The court's order mandated that respondent refrain from having any contact with Logan, her boyfriend, or "any other member of the opposite sex." In addition, the court (1) eliminated respondent's overnight visitation with A.L. and (2) maintained the permanency goal of return home within 12 months.

At a May 2009 permanency review hearing, the court considered evidence, contained in a permanency-review-hearing report prepared by respondent's caseworker, Frani Estes. Estes' report noted that in April 2009, respondent violated the court's November 2008 dispositional order by testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive substance in cannabis, and opiates. The court entered a permanency hearing order, finding that respondent failed to make reasonable progress toward A.L.'s return home within 12 months. The court's order mandated that

(1) respondent's visitation schedule with A.L. be reduced to two hours of supervised visitation per week and (2) the current permanency goal of return home within 12 months remain unchanged. Later that same month, Estes rated respondent's overall progress on completing her client-service-plan goals as unsatisfactory because of respondent's drug relapse.

At an October 2009 permanency review hearing, which was continued to December 2009, the trial court considered the permanency-review-hearing report of respondent's new caseworker, Brandy Bradshaw, which was supported by Bradshaw's testimony. In particular, Bradshaw noted that respondent failed to (1) comply with drug and alcohol counseling in that she was not attending the number of weekly meetings prescribed and (2) provide the requested documentation confirming her attendance at those counseling sessions. Bradshaw confirmed that respondent's visitation with A.L. was "positive and full of activities[,] dinners[,] and readings" but recommended that respondent's visitation remain supervised at two hours per week because she was not making sufficient progress in completing her substance-abuse, domestic-violence, and individual counseling.

Respondent testified that she was not attending her semiweekly drug and alcohol counseling sessions because "several" sessions were cancelled because fewer than three participants were present. Respondent also noted that following the October 2009 permanency review hearing, she began completing 75 hours of outpatient drug and alcohol treatment by attending weekly meetings. Respondent explained that she did not appear for a November 2009 drug-screening test because she had car troubles and the driving conditions on that night were not good.

Respondent admitted that she (1) had failed to complete at least two drug-screening tests; (2) had been in contact with her former male roommate, whom she described as a friend; (3) entered a drug-treatment facility in April 2009 because she had been using heroin; and (4) had previously admitted that she found ways to register a negative result on drug-screening tests despite using illicit drugs.

Thereafter, the trial court entered a permanency hearing order, (1) finding that respondent failed to make reasonable progress toward A.L.'s return home within 12 months, (2) maintaining the permanency goal of return home within 12 months, and (3) scheduling a March 2010 permanency review hearing to consider DCFS' recommendations from its proposed legal screening of respondent's case.

At the March 2010 hearing, the trial court considered a permanency-review-hearing report prepared by respondent's new caseworker, Julie Thompson, who testified consistent with her report. In particular, the report and testimony showed that respondent (1) was unemployed and did not have any transportation; (2) had not attended any substance-abuse or individual counseling sessions since the December 2009 permanency review hearing but had expressed a willingness to do so once her transportation problems were resolved; (3) admitted that she was using heroin "at least two times per day"; and (4) was not participating in drug screening because she knew the test results would be positive. During the hearing, the court ordered respondent to undergo a drug test. Shortly thereafter, the test result revealed that ...


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