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In Re Aaron L., A Minor v. Aaron L.

March 29, 2013


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 94 JA 01838 Honorable Marilyn F. Johnson, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cunningham

JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Rochford and Delort concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 This appeal arises from the September 27, 2012 order entered by the circuit court of Cook County, which terminated the wardship and guardianship of the respondent-appellant, Aaron L. (Aaron), a minor, and closed his child protection case. On appeal, the Cook County public guardian (public guardian), on behalf of Aaron, argues that: (1) the circuit court failed to comply with section 2-31(2) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (the Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-31(2) (West 2010)) when it terminated Aaron's wardship, discharged the Department of Children and Family Services's (DCFS) guardianship of Aaron and closed the case; and (2) the manifest weight of the evidence presented to the circuit court established good cause to extend Aaron's wardship and gurdianship. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County and remand the case for further proceedings.


¶ 3 On May 12, 1993, Aaron was born. In 1994, by age one, the juvenile court found Aaron to be neglected, adjudged him a ward of the court, and placed him in the guardianship of DCFS. During Aaron's childhood, he was placed in foster homes, and the court made several findings over time that DCFS had failed to make reasonable efforts to achieve Aaron's permanency goals--including failing to file a petition to terminate the parental rights of Aaron's parents. In 1999, the court appointed Aaron's paternal great-grandmother, Hattie D. (Hattie), as his guardian, with whom he lived for several years until the court vacated Hattie's guardianship in 2006. Thereafter, Aaron again became a ward of the court, was placed in the guardianship of DCFS, and lived in foster homes. In 2006, Aaron's mother abducted Aaron and one of his siblings, Tonette, and took them to her residence in Wisconsin. After about a month, however, the mother returned her children to Chicago on a Greyhound bus, after which Aaron lived in several foster homes. In March 2007, Aaron, at age 13, was referred by his caseworker to undergo a psychological evaluation as a result of Aaron's severe defiant behavior in two foster homes. The psychological report stated that in February 2007, Aaron was criminally charged with committing sexually abusive behavior with another minor*fn1 ; that he had a "borderline mentally deficient range of cognitive ability," with an IQ score of 72; and that Aaron suffered from "significant difficulties in his emotional and social functioning." The psychological report recommended that Aaron be placed in a residential therapeutic group home; that he undergo psychiatric consultation to determine his need for psychotropic medication; and that he be required to participate in individual and group therapy. Subsequently, Aaron was placed in a DCFS-approved residential treatment center in Kankakee, Illinois, during which he continued to serve his five-year probation for aggravated battery and was reported to have been prescribed the psychotropic medication, Risperdal.

¶ 4 In July 2010, 17-year-old Aaron was placed in the ChildServ group home in Lisle, Illinois. In October 2011, Aaron was placed in ChildServ's Transitional Living Program (TLP) in Wheaton, Illinois. TLP was a supervised, but less restrictive, living arrangement which prepared youths for independence by offering them support and services. In a December 2011 service plan prepared by DCFS (the December 2011 service plan), DCFS noted that Aaron had successfully complied with the rules of the program since his placement in TLP; that he had established a relationship with other male peers; and that he was building positive relationships with TLP staff. The December 2011 service plan noted that, prior to Aaron's placement in TLP, he admitted to using marijuana and participated in drug treatment at Woodridge Interventions. The December 2011 service plan stated that it was agreed that Aaron would remain in the drug treatment program at Woodridge Interventions and that he would provide weekly urine samples. It further stated that Aaron earned a high school diploma in June 2011; that in November 2011, a ChildServ staff member accompanied Aaron to the College of DuPage to inquire about his academic status and financial aid; and that it was recommended to Aaron that he complete one of the classes in which he had enrolled, but that Aaron did not comply. Further, the December 2011 service plan stated that as of December 8, 2011, Aaron had obtained employment as a store sales associate.*fn2

¶ 5 On February 29, 2012, less than three months before Aaron's nineteenth birthday, counsel and guardian ad litem (GAL) for Aaron filed a motion to extend wardship and guardianship (motion to extend) until the age of 21. The GAL argued that Aaron continued to require services from DCFS, such as substance abuse treatment, and educational and vocational services, which were essential to Aaron's transition into adulthood. On March 9, 2012, a hearing was held on GAL's motion to extend, during which the supervisor of TLP, Deanna Jacek (Jacek) testified. Jacek testified that Aaron had been attending all but one of his classes; that Aaron was suspected of substance abuse; and that the agency would make another substance abuse assessment should there be no improvement. She testified that Aaron was respectful to TLP staff members, but that he liked having his girlfriend visit and "just kind of exist[ed] in the house." However, Aaron had been making telephone calls and working with a ChildServ's vocational placement coordinator to look for a job. Although the agency had recommended individual counseling to Aaron, he did not think he needed it. Jacek testified that Aaron's allowances from ChildServ were significantly reduced as a result of his skipping classes. Jacek opined that Aaron's wardship should be extended beyond his nineteenth birthday, because he needed to gain the necessary skills of living independently, especially in the areas of budgeting and finance. On cross-examination, Jacek testified that Aaron kept in contact with his probation officer.

¶ 6 At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court granted the GAL's motion to extend for six months, stating that Aaron needed the assistance of the services being offered to him in order to achieve independence. The circuit court noted that Aaron needed to attend school and that his educational benefits could extend to age 23. Further, the circuit court found that Aaron let "weed" become a distraction, but that he could succeed if he took advantage of the State's help before he became emancipated. The circuit court then set a permanency hearing for August 14, 2012.

¶ 7 On August 14, 2012, at a permanency hearing, the circuit court heard testimony by Kimberly Smith (Smith), the case manger for Aaron, and admitted into evidence a ChildServ court report (ChildServ report) prepared by Smith and a copy of a June 2012 DCFS service plan (the June 2012 service plan). The June 2012 service plan stated that Aaron had violated TLP rules on multiple occasions by having an "uninvited female guest in his room"; that he was terminated from his employment as a store sales associate after a short period of time; and that he continued to make self-destructive decisions.

¶ 8 The ChildServ report stated that since March 2012, Aaron's compliance with TLP rules and procedures had declined; that he continued to use illegal substances and engage in underage drinking; that his achievement level was unsuccessful; and that he was deteriorating and making no advances to better himself. The ChildServ report noted that in May 2012, a juvenile warrant was issued for Aaron's arrest because he violated the terms of his probation, for which he was detained*fn3 by the police for 16 days. During his detention, Aaron completed a drug treatment assessment with an organization, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), which recommended that he participate in an adult outpatient program. Aaron then attended an "intake" assessment on July 30, 2012, and was scheduled to begin treatment in mid-August 2012. The ChildServ report further stated that Aaron had recently missed two appointments with his probation officer; that he owed over $2,000 in school grants as a result of failing all of his classes at the College of DuPage; and that an outstanding debt he owed to Sprint telephone company had been reported to a collection agency. The ChildServ report stated that, despite Aaron's ongoing refusal and reluctance, he could benefit from some of the services offered.

¶ 9 Smith, the case manager for Aaron, testified to the contents of the ChildServ report. She testified that Aaron associated with the "wrong crowd"; that he continued to use drugs; that he needed to refrain from being a manipulative and negative person within the community; that he had chosen not to take full advantage of the services offered to him; and that he had not made progress in his behavior. On cross-examination, Smith opined that Aaron was unable to live independently at that time without the assistance of DCFS and ChildServ, particularly because he had no employment and possessed very poor judgment. She testified that Aaron had informed her that he wanted drug treatment help, but that TLP staff members had the general impression that Aaron was "just existing in the placement" with minimum progress.

¶ 10 Aaron testified that he had improved since he was released from detention, stating that he was doing "more stuff around the house" and was being more respectful. He recognized that he had done "a lot of negative stuff," and he did not blame ChildServ for his poor behavior.

ΒΆ 11 The circuit court then responded that it had heard testimony of this nature "pretty consistently" since it had presided over Aaron's case, and it cautioned Aaron that one of three things would likely occur if he did not take advantage of the available services to achieve independence--homelessness, incarceration or premature death. The circuit court noted that it was trying to help Aaron avoid these three things, but that he was not listening and did not care. The circuit court then held that it would close Aaron's case, but that it would stay the order closing his case for 45 days--until September 27, 2012--in order for the court to reassess whether there might be some marked difference in Aaron's behavior during that period of time. The court then entered a form order stating that "Aaron [was] unable to live independently and [was] not cooperating and participating in services to help him achieve independence," and it checked boxes on the form indicating that "[g]ood cause [had] been shown to support extension of ...

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