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In re N.T.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

February 20, 2015

In re N.T., a Minor The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Arielle T., Respondent-Appellant

Modified opinion filed April 10, 2015.

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Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 10 JA 01122. The Honorable Maxwell Griffin, Jr., Judge Presiding.

For Appellant: Robert F. Harris, Kass A. Plain, Janet L. Barnes, Jenetia M. Marshall, Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, Chicago, Illinois.

For Appellee: Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, Alan J. Spellberg, Mary Needham, Nancy Kisicki, Assistant State's Attorneys, Chicago, Illinois.

JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McBride and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

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GORDON, JUSTICE.

[¶1] The instant appeal arises from the juvenile court's entry of an order terminating respondent Arielle T.'s parental rights to her daughter, four-year-old N.T. Respondent argues that the juvenile court's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and that she was denied due process by the juvenile court's actions during the termination proceedings. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] Respondent's daughter, N.T., was born on December 24, 2010. On December 28, 2010, the State filed a petition for adjudication of warship, asking for N.T. to be adjudicated a ward of the court; the State also filed a motion for temporary custody the same day. The adjudication petition claimed that N.T. was neglected in that she was minor under 18 years of age " whose environment [was] injurious to her welfare." The petition listed the following facts as support for the claim:

" Mother has one prior indicated report for substantial risk of physical injury/environment injurious to health and welfare by neglect. Mother has one other minor who was in DCFS care and custody with findings of abuse and neglect having been entered. On or about November 30, 2010[,] mother was psychiatrically hospitalized due to acute psychosis and recurrent episodes of paranoia. Mother has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Mother was non-compliant with her psychotropic medication prior to being hospitalized. Mother has a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and non-compliance with treatment. Medical personnel state mother is unable to parent this minor due to her mental health issues and non-compliance. The identity and whereabouts of putative father are unknown."

[¶4] Also on December 28, 2010, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigator assigned to N.T.'s case filed an " Affidavit Documenting DCFS Efforts," which stated that this case came to the attention of DCFS on December 24, 2010, when respondent gave birth to N.T. Respondent had been admitted to the psychiatric unit of the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago due to acute psychosis on December 17, 2010, and refused prenatal treatment. When N.T. was born, Dr. Wilmarie Garcia took protective custody of the child " due to mother[']s inability to parent her new born baby."

[¶5] Based on the facts alleged in the State's petition for adjudication of wardship, on December 28, 2010, the juvenile court found probable cause that N.T. was neglected and that immediate and urgent necessity existed to support her removal from the home. The court granted temporary custody to the DCFS guardian administrator

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with the right to place N.T. At the hearing, the juvenile court was informed that N.T. would be placed with Deirdra T., her maternal grandmother, who was present in court. The court then addressed Deirdra:

" THE COURT: When we place children, one of the things we try to find is a relative placement. But we need that relative to understand that while we hope to be able, once we bring a child into the system if we can't avoid that, we hope to be able to return the child to the natural parent.
But should return home fail for any reason, we ask foster parents, whether they be relatives or not, to do a very difficult thing: One, they should be supportive of the return home goal. Two, should return home fail for any reason, they should be prepared to provide permanency and stability for the child.
On a child this young, the first thing the Court's going to look at is adoption, okay? So you need to be aware of that. And when we look at this, we look at it in the best interest of the child. We don't simply say well, I don't want to change the family dynamic is not something that will necessarily keep the Court from terminating parental rights and making the child available for adoption, because the priority is to put the child in a stable and permanent home, to give him or her that security.
And what we've found is with private guardianship, a private guardian at any time for any reason can come back to the Court, and they do, and say I don't want to be the guardian anymore, and then the child is back in flux.
So I have to have a reason to rule out adoption, and a relative simply not wanting to take that step is not a good reason.
So I'm not suggesting at this point I'm making any judgment as to how this is going to go. Hopefully your daughter will make progress with services, remain medication compliant, if that's what she needs to do, and can be a parent for this child.
But if she can't, I'm going to be looking to, you know, put the child in a permanent situation. Now even terminating your daughter's parental rights and having you adopt the child, in essence, it will probably--it will legally change the child's status, but in reality, you're always going to be the mother's mother, and you're always going to want that child to know that.
And that's the reality that I deal with when I make these decisions. But I want you to be aware of that from the very beginning, because oftentimes in the effort to look for relatives that will take the child, these things aren't discussed with them all the time, and they're under the misconception that they have the option to just say well, okay, I'll do private guardianship, and that's not necessarily the case. Okay?
DEIRDRA: Yes."

On the same day, the juvenile court entered an order granting respondent visitation limited to day visits supervised by a DCFS or private agency caseworker.

[¶6] On March 25, 2011, the juvenile court entered an order finding N.T. neglected due to " injurious environment." The same day, the court entered a disposition order making N.T. a ward of the court and finding respondent unable for some reason other than financial circumstances alone to care for, protect, train, or discipline her. The court further found that reasonable efforts had been made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of N.T. from her home, but that it was in the best interest of N.T. to remove her from

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the custody of respondent. The court placed N.T. in the custody of the DCFS guardianship administrator with the right to place her. Respondent appealed, and we affirmed the juvenile court. In re N.T., 2011 IL App. (1st) 111083-U (summary order).

[¶7] On July 13, 2011, a permanency order was entered, setting the permanency goal as return home within 12 months. The order indicated that respondent had made substantial progress toward the return home of N.T. The reasons for selecting the goal were listed as: " [N.T.] is 6 months old and placed in a pre-adoptive home. All of [N.T.'s] medical and clinical needs are being met. [N.T.] is doing well. Mother has a mental health disorder and on medication. Mother in therapy and making progress. Mother referred for a parenting assessment evaluation. Mother cooperating with 2x a month drug drops and last tested positive for marijuana in March 2011. Mother has daily visits with [N.T.] Father unknown. He is not visiting and not in services."

[¶8] On February 21, 2012, a permanency order was entered, again setting the permanency goal as return home within 12 months and stating that respondent had made progress toward the return home of N.T. The reasons for selecting the goal were listed as: " [N.T.] is one year old and lives in a relative pre-adoptive foster home. [N.T.] completed a 0-3 evaluation in November and is not in need of services. Natural mother is engaged in services and is visiting [N.T.] A parenting assessment was conducted in November."

[¶9] On November 19, 2012, a permanency order was entered modifying the permanency goal to substitute care pending court determination on termination of parental rights. The reasons for selecting the goal were listed as: " [N.T.] is almost 2 years old and placed in a pre-adoptive relative home. All of [N.T.'s] medical, educational and clinical needs are being met. Mother is involved in services but not making progress. Agency has suspended all visits between the mother and [N.T.] due to mother's behaviors. Father not involved in services and not visiting [N.T.] The court has reviewed CCJCC report." The " CCJCC report" referenced in the permanency order was a Cook County Juvenile Court Clinic report submitted in response to a request for clinical information. The report was completed on October 30, 2012, by Dr. Heather Cintron, a licensed clinical psychologist, and included respondent's " protective factors and parenting strengths," as well as her " risk factors and parenting weaknesses." The report noted that " [m]inimal protective factors have been identified" due to respondent's " mental health instability and expression of psychotic behaviors/ideations," but listed respondent's satisfactory progress on her service plans and the fact that she had not returned a positive substance abuse screening since March 2011 and was compliant with substance abuse services. As risk factors, the report listed respondent's long history and current expression of mental illness, her extensive history of medication noncompliance, her lack of support system, her " significant difficulties with regard to her judgment and problem solving skills" and " history of dangerous and threatening behavior," and her apparent lack of emotional connection to N.T. The report concluded that the likelihood that respondent would be able to make the gains necessary to achieve a goal of return home was " extremely low, as her mental illness is chronic and she has displayed a long history of treatment noncompliance."

[¶10] On May 17, 2013, another permanency order was entered, again setting the permanency goal as substitute care pending

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court determination on termination of parental rights. The reasons for selecting the goal were listed as: " [N.T.] is 2 1/2 years old and placed with maternal grandmother in a pre-adoptive home. All of [N.T.'s] medical, clinical and educational needs are being met. Mother has a DSM-IV diagnosis and not in mental health services. Mother has sporadic supervised visits with [N.T.] Father not in services or visiting [N.T.]"

[¶11] On June 19, 2013, the State filed a supplemental petition for the appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to adoption (termination petition). In its petition, the State alleged, inter alia, that respondent was unfit because she had " failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for the removal of the child from [her] and/or ha[d] failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the child to [her] within 9 months after the adjudication of neglect or abuse under the Juvenile Court Act, *** and/or within any 9 month period after said finding," in violation of section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 2012)) and section 2-29 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-29 (West 2012)). The petition also alleged that respondent was unfit under section 1(D)(p) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 2012)) because she was unable to discharge parental responsibilities due to mental illness. Additionally, the petition alleged that it would be in N.T.'s best interest to appoint a guardian with the right to consent to her adoption because she had resided with her foster parent since January 2011, the foster parent wished to adopt N.T., and adoption by the foster parent would be in N.T.'s best interest.

[¶12] At a status hearing on February 11, 2014, respondent continually interrupted the proceedings and the court ordered respondent removed from the courtroom.

[¶13] On March 13, 2014, the juvenile court entered a permanency order, again setting the permanency goal as substitute care pending court determination on termination of parental rights. The reasons for selecting the goal were listed as: " [N.T.] is 3 years old and is placed in a relative foster home. She is developmentally on target and not in need of services. Mother has a mental health diagnosis and she has been psychiatrically hospitalized 5 times within the last reporting period. She is currently psychiatrically hospitalized. She is not engaged in any services. The father is unknown."

[¶14] The parties came before the court on May 21, 2014, for a hearing on the State's termination petition. The State withdrew its allegations as to section 1(D)(p), leaving the allegations concerning " reasonable efforts" under section 1(D)(m) as the sole basis ...


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