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In Re S.L., A Minor (The People of the State of Illinois v. Julia F

November 28, 2012


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Marion County. No. 07-JA-40 Honorable Michael D. McHaney, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Stewart


The text of this decision may be changed or corrected prior to the filing of a Petition for Rehearing or the disposition of the same.

JUSTICE STEWART delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Goldenhersh and Spomer concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 On January 18, 2011, the State filed a petition for termination of the parental rights of Bruce V. and Julia F., the parents of S.L., a minor child. The father did not participate in the proceedings below and has not filed a brief in this court. On November 30, 2011, the State filed an amended petition for termination of parental rights, alleging four grounds for unfitness against Julia: (1) failure to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the child's removal (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(i) (West 2010)); (2) failure to make reasonable progress toward the return of her child within nine months after the adjudication of neglect, being the period of November 29, 2007, to August 29, 2008 (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(ii) (West 2010)); (3) failure to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child during any nine-month period after the end of the initial nine-month period following the adjudication of neglect (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(iii) (West 2010)); and (4) inability to discharge parental responsibilities as supported by competent evidence from a licensed clinical psychologist of mental impairment with sufficient justification to believe that the inability to discharge parental responsibilities shall extend beyond a reasonable time period (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 2010)). After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court entered an order finding that the State had not proved the first two grounds but had proved Julia to be unfit under the final two grounds alleged in the amended petition.

¶ 2 Julia appeals from the order of the circuit court of Marion County finding her to be an unfit parent under sections 1(D)(m)(iii) and 1(D)(p) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(iii), (D)(p) (West 2010)). We reverse and remand.


¶ 4 S.L. was born to Julia on May 3, 2002. On September 11, 2007, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging that S.L. was neglected in that she was in an environment injurious to her welfare because Julia was not protecting her physical welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(g) (West 2006)). On the same date, the court entered an order for temporary custody, finding probable cause existed to believe that S.L. had been abused or neglected due to being dirty and having bites and bruising on her body. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was granted temporary custody of S.L.

¶ 5 On January 3, 2008, the court entered a dispositional order finding S.L. to be neglected, making her a ward of the court, and awarding DCFS custody and guardianship. At each of the permanency hearings after entry of the dispositional order, the goal for the family was for S.L. to return to Julia within 12 months. On July 21, 2010, the goal was changed to substitute care pending court determination of termination of parental rights. On January 18, 2011, the State filed the initial petition to terminate parental rights, and it filed an amended petition on November 30, 2011.

¶ 6 On February 24, 2012, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the amended petition to terminate parental rights. Although the parental rights of S.L.'s father were addressed at this hearing, we will not relate those facts since he is not participating in this appeal. The State called Frank Kosmicki, a licensed clinical psychologist, to testify. Kosmicki testified that he interviewed Julia for 50 to 60 minutes on April 18, 2011. As part of his evaluation, he also reviewed a psychological evaluation report drafted by Fred Klug in 2008, an integrated assessment prepared by DCFS on August 26, 2010, an administrative case review dated September 10, 2010, and a DCFS family service plan dated March 28, 2011.

¶ 7 Kosmicki testified that Julia informed him about her past history of abuse, which included being beaten, raped, and threatened to be killed at age eight by her mother's boyfriend. She was placed in foster care at age 12. She said that she had been hospitalized nine times between the ages of 10 and 14 for running away and being defiant. She was in special education in grade school and was expelled from school in the tenth grade. She reported using drugs from age 13 until she was 17 years old. She told Kosmicki that she had not drunk any alcohol since she was 23 years old. When she was 17 years old, she began dating a 30-year-old man, whom she married when she was 18 years old. She told Kosmicki that her first husband was physically abusive and beat her so badly once that he knocked out her teeth, causing her to be hospitalized and to need dentures. She said that her second marriage was to a man who was an alcoholic and physically abusive, and her third marriage was to an alcoholic.

¶ 8 Kosmicki noted that, before S.L. was born, Julia had a son, M.P., who was born on March 17, 1996, when Julia was 18 years old. She explained to Kosmicki that she gave up custody of M.P. to her mother when he was young because she was trying to get out of her marriage, and her husband had threatened M.P. Julia regained custody of M.P. in 2008 because her mother became incompetent and began living in a nursing home. DCFS has not intervened or tried to remove M.P. from Julia's custody, and he remained in her custody at the time of the termination hearing.

¶ 9 At the time of the interview, Julia was not in a relationship with anyone. Kosmicki testified that Julia "said she was single and planned on staying single, that she wasn't looking for a relationship." Kosmicki testified that Julia was unemployed when he interviewed her.*fn1

She was not on any medication at the time of the interview, but at times had been prescribed several different antidepressants and antipsychotic medications. Julia told him she had not taken any of these medications for two years because they made her feel like a zombie. She reported having several symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as flashbacks, nightmares, and reactivity to cues that reminded her of past traumas. However, at the time of the interview, she felt that she was doing much better and that her judgment had improved.

¶ 10 Kosmicki testified that he conducted several diagnostic tests on Julia. From those tests, he determined that her IQ was 74, which put her in the borderline range just above those who are mentally retarded. On the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory--2--Restructured Form test, he testified that Julia's answers indicated that she was trying to "fake good" or show herself in a false positive light. Kosmicki also said that the "only clinical elevation of note was an elevation on a scale assessing antisocial behaviors," which was consistent with her early history. Kosmicki administered a parenting relationship questionnaire, but he assigned very little significance to the findings from that test because the test had not been "standardized empirically" and it measured Julia's interaction with S.L., which had been very limited since S.L.'s removal from Julia's custody.

¶ 11 Kosmicki testified that Julia met the criteria for PTSD, borderline intellectual functioning, and "a personality disorder, not otherwise specified with some dependent and borderline personality features." He did not believe she was able to discharge her parental responsibilities at the time he interviewed her. He based that conclusion partly on his diagnoses of PTSD and personality disorder and partly on her past history "of having very dangerous men in her household and exposing her daughter to dangerous things." Kosmicki recommended that, before she could be reunited with S.L., she should "get some long-term intensive therapy." He acknowledged that she was in counseling when he saw her and that he could not "determine whether or not the counseling that she had was in fact helping her." He recommended that she "be in long-term psychotherapy" and consult with a psychiatrist about the necessity of psychotropic medication for symptom management.

¶ 12 When asked how long he thought Julia would need to demonstrate that she had made sufficient changes to enable her to regain custody of S.L., he estimated that she would need "six months to a year of logistical stability, being in one place, utilities, having a home, having no arrests, having no instance of domestic violence, no substance abuse, those kinds of things." On cross-examination by Julia's attorney, Kosmicki again stated, "[A]t a bare minimum, I would recommend six months to a year maintaining [a] stable life" before S.L. could safely return home.

¶ 13 Tiffany Short, Julia's caseworker from September 2007 through June 2008, testified that she conducted an administrative case review on March 24, 2008, and discussed that service plan with Julia. Short testified that Julia's service plan required her to complete several tasks to correct the conditions that had led to S.L.'s removal. Short testified that, as of March 2008, Julia had satisfactorily completed five of the tasks assigned to her. First, Short said that Julia had completed her psychiatric assessment, was being treated by Dr. Katz, and was taking her prescribed medications. Second, Julia had been financially responsible for S.L. because she had worked through the Department of Rehabilitative Services taking care of her mother, and when her mother had to be placed in a nursing home, she was not employed, but she was receiving "SSI as well as food stamps." Third, she had obtained and maintained safe and appropriate housing. Short said that, in March 2008, Julia was in the process of moving into her own residence in Centralia. Visits with S.L. had not begun at that house yet because Julia was still trying to finish moving in. Fourth, Julia was in the process of completing a substance abuse assessment, and she had tested negative when screened for drugs. Fifth, she had satisfactorily completed the psychological evaluation by Dr. Klug on March 14, 2008.

¶ 14 Short testified that Julia was assigned four additional tasks. Short stated that Julia was rated unsatisfactory in the categories of individual mental health counseling, completing parenting classes, obtaining a bonding assessment, and completing domestic violence counseling, but Short acknowledged that the failure to complete those tasks was not Julia's fault. Short testified that Julia "seemed open to completing services." However, in Short's opinion, Julia "didn't take really any responsibility for why [S.L.] came into care." When asked for the basis of her opinion that Julia was not taking responsibility for S.L., Short answered, "Just kind of her attitude and, you know, things that she would say."

¶ 15 Dayna Harris McDaniel testified that she was employed by Catholic Social Services as Julia's caseworker from June 2008 until April 2010. When McDaniel drafted the permanency report in September 2008, Julia's overall rating was unsatisfactory. McDaniel testified that although Julia had engaged in the services, she lacked the "ability to internalize and demonstrate the learning of whatever the services were." McDaniel explained that Julia showed a lack of stability because she moved multiple times. She believed that Julia showed a lack of good judgment because she chose boyfriends who were abusive and she hung around with people who were not appropriate. Julia had completed a substance abuse evaluation and no follow-up services were recommended, and she had begun taking parenting classes.

¶ 16 McDaniel testified that, although Julia had completed a psychological evaluation with Dr. Klug and was following up with mental health counseling, McDaniel rated her as unsatisfactory on this criteria because her attendance had been sporadic and she lacked the ability to apply what she had learned. She was seeing Dr. Katz at the Angela Center and taking the medication he prescribed her for bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, around September or October 2008, Julia stopped taking her medication, saying it made her feel like a zombie. Julia was also attending individual counseling sessions with Pearce Konold, and her attendance at these sessions was better. McDaniel testified that her counselor*fn2 thought she was making progress, but her ability to understand and apply what she was learning was a challenge.

¶ 17 McDaniel rated Julia as unsatisfactory on the requirement of obtaining and maintaining appropriate and safe housing because her residence was unclean, had rodents and cockroaches, and was too small for the number of people living there. During this time, however, Julia had no difficulty with substance abuse and had completed her parenting classes. She had not completed domestic violence counseling but had initiated PAVE (People Against Violent Environments) services to address those issues.

ΒΆ 18 McDaniel also prepared a permanency report in March 2009. At that time, Julia had moved out of the residence she was sharing with her husband Billy due to domestic violence, and she had obtained an order of protection against him. She was working at Gilster-Mary Lee. She was not taking the medications Katz had previously prescribed to her. Katz was no longer available to treat her, and she had not yet switched to a different doctor for psychiatric review. She was still attending mental health counseling, but her ...

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