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In Re Tamera W., A Minor v. Sawley W

March 29, 2012

IN RE TAMERA W., A MINOR
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
SAWLEY W.,
RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 08-JA-40 Honorable Patrick L. Heaslip and Mary Linn Green, Judges, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Burke and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Respondent, Sawley W., appeals from the trial court's order entered October 20, 2011, terminating his parental rights. He argues that: (1) he did not knowingly and voluntarily enter an admission to an allegation of unfitness; (2) a per se conflict of interest arose when he was represented by a Conflicts II attorney from the public defender's office after the minor's mother was represented by the same division of the public defender's office at a prior juvenile proceeding; and

(3) the trial court's finding that termination of respondent's parental rights was in the minor's best interest was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Tamera W. was born prematurely on January 3, 2008, at which time she tested positive for cocaine in her system. When Tamera was eight weeks old, the State filed a three-count neglect petition alleging, inter alia, that she was born with cocaine in her urine, blood, or meconium, which was not a result of medical treatment administered to the mother or infant. See 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2008). Temporary custody and guardianship were awarded to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on February 28, 2008. She was placed in foster care with her maternal grandparents.

¶ 4 On May 15, 2008, Tamera was adjudicated neglected based on her mother's factual stipulation to count II of the petition, which alleged that Tamera was neglected in that she was born with cocaine in her system. Id.

¶ 5 On June 12, 2008, the trial court found that respondent was Tamera's natural father. On the same day, the trial court found that respondent was "fit, but he is unable to care for the child due to the child's medical complexities." DCFS was then granted custody and guardianship, with discretion to place Tamera with a "responsible relative, in traditional foster care, or with dad."

¶ 6 At the permanency hearing on December 9, 2008, the trial court found that, due to continued illegal drug use, Tamera's mother had not made reasonable efforts toward the goal of returning home within 12 months, but that reasonable efforts had been made by DCFS, contracting agencies, and respondent. The trial court ordered short-term care with a continued goal of returning home. DCFS was given discretion to place Tamera with respondent.

¶ 7 At a hearing on June 9, 2009, Carrie Juda, a supervisor for Catholic Charities, testified that overnight visitation with respondent had been allowed during the prior six-month period. These visits caused some issues with Tamera crying and not adjusting well to the transition between her grandparents' home and respondent's home. There were also concerns about individuals who had not passed background checks baby-sitting and/or spending time with Tamera. Further, Juda stated that allegations had been made by Tamera's grandmother regarding respondent's possible involvement with drug activity.

¶ 8 The trial court found that neither parent had made reasonable efforts toward the goal of returning home within 12 months. The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) agency was appointed as Tamera's guardian ad litem. The trial court also ordered visits with respondent to be supervised. The case was continued for permanency review.

¶ 9 On June 26, 2009, Dr. Nicholas O'Riordan, a licensed clinical psychologist, conducted a psychological evaluation of respondent. According to the report, respondent "presented with an almost textbook array of the symptoms of Anti-Social Personality Disorder."

¶ 10 At the permanency hearing on January 5, 2010, respondent was found to have made reasonable efforts, but not reasonable progress, toward the goal of returning home within 12 months.

¶ 11 On June 29, 2010, the trial court, Judge Patrick L. Heaslip presiding, remarked on Tamara's "complex medical condition" and found that respondent and Catholic Charities had made reasonable progress. The goal remained to return home within 12 months.

¶ 12 On December 21, 2010, the trial court, Judge Mary Linn Green presiding, held a permanency review. Amelia Hernandez, a child-welfare case manager, testified for Catholic Charities. At that time, Tamera was 2 years and 11 months old and had remained in foster care with her maternal grandparents since she was released from the hospital as a newborn in February 2008. Hernandez stated that Tamera had developmental delays. She also had an individual education plan (IEP) in place for when she started school in January 2011. Her medical needs included a low-functioning kidney, cardiology problems, and severe hearing loss in one ear. She also needed braces for her legs.

¶ 13 Hernandez testified that Tamera's mother was incarcerated. Respondent had one-hour weekly supervised visitation with Tamera. Respondent had missed 7 out of the 25 scheduled visits. Hernandez thought that, during the previous six-month period, respondent had missed 12 of the scheduled visits, and, therefore, missing 7 visits showed improvement.

¶ 14 Other services required of respondent were random drug screenings, psychological counseling, sign language classes, and counseling with Catholic Charities. Respondent was also required to maintain stable employment and to refrain from criminal activity. His drug screens were all negative; he was discharged from psychological counseling; he had stopped attending the sign language classes; and he had attended five counseling sessions with Catholic Charities. Hernandez stated that Catholic Charities had difficulty finding a counselor to work with respondent due to his psychological diagnosis. After six attempts, the seventh counselor agreed to counseling, but respondent attended only one session and then missed four. As a result, respondent was discharged. After that, respondent did attend five sessions with another counselor in the agency.

¶ 15 Hernandez testified that she received five paycheck stubs from respondent in six months, "so that doesn't count for the whole six months." On cross-examination, Hernandez stated that respondent was working temporary jobs. During the prior six months, respondent had been arrested for driving on a suspended license and for possession of marijuana. Hernandez opined that respondent would not be able to meet Tamera's special needs.

¶ 16 Respondent testified that he had missed seven visits with Tamera in the previous six months because he was working for a temporary service and that he had stopped working on Thursdays because of the conflict between work and visitation with Tamera. He stated that he was arrested during the prior six months but not yet convicted.

¶ 17 He stated that he quit the sign language classes because they were "too hard and too advanced." Instead, for about two months he had been studying sign language from library books. At the time of the hearing, he had not developed an ability to sign. He was aware that Tamera had special needs but he was not able to list her medications, and he was unaware that she needed leg braces. He stated that Tamera's needs were "not that far out there." He also stated that he could take care of Tamera, but if he "[fell] short" his ex-wife was a nurse and "the lady that I'm staying with currently *** takes care of old people" so they could "teach [him] what to do." He explained that he was not given any information about Tamera's doctors' appointments.

¶ 18 Respondent had unsupervised visitation with two of his other five children every other weekend and all holidays. They attended every other visit with Tamera.

¶ 19 Hernandez was recalled and testified that she provided respondent with a list of Tamera's healthcare providers and that he was invited to attend her medical appointments.

ΒΆ 20 Both parents were found not to have made reasonable efforts or progress. The trial court further found that it was in Tamera's best interest to ...


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