Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
In re CURTIS W., JR., a Minor, Respondent-Appellant The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee Curtis W., Sr., Respondent-Appellee
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 13 JA 207. Honorable Andrea M. Buford, Judge Presiding.
FOR APPELLANT: Robert F. Harris, Kass A. Plain, Janet L. Barnes, Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, Chicago, IL
FOR APPELLEES: Anita Alvarez, State's Attorney, County of Cook, Alan Spellberg, Nancy Kisicki, Assitant State's Attorneys, Chicago, IL.
For Respondent: Stephen Jaffe, Esq., Chicago, IL.
JUSTICE HALL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman and Justice Lampkin concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] Pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 311(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010) and Rule 306(a)(5) (eff. Feb. 16, 2011), the respondent-minor, Curtis W., Jr. (Curtis Jr.), brings this expedited appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County denying the State's petition to terminate the parental rights of the respondent-father, Curtis W., Sr. (the respondent). On appeal, Curtis Jr. contends that the trial court's determination that termination of the respondent's parental rights was not in the best interest of Curtis Jr. was against the manifest weight of the evidence. He further contends that the trial court erred when it determined that the State failed to prove bye clear and convincing evidence that the respondent was unfit under section 1(D)(b) and (i) of the Adoption Act (the Adoption Act) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (i) (West 2014)).
[¶2] We do not need to address Curtis Jr.'s second contention. The respondent does not challenge the trial court's finding that he was unfit under section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 2014)). The finding of unfitness on one ground is sufficient. See In re M.J., 314 Ill.App.3d 649, 655, 732 N.E.2d 790, 247 Ill.Dec. 735 (2000) ( if there is sufficient evidence to satisfy any one ground of unfitness, the reviewing court need not consider the other findings of parental unfitness).
[¶4] Curtis Jr. was born on October 12, 2012 to Shanea S. and the respondent. From November 2012 to March 2013, the respondent was incarcerated at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, Illinois, serving a sentence for drug possession.
[¶5] On January 14, 2013, Chicago police officers executed a warrant at Shanea S.'s residence and found Shanea S. and Curtis Jr. on a bed within reach of illegal substances and drug paraphernalia. On February 26, 2013, Curtis Jr. was taken into custody by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
[¶6] I. JUVENILE COURT PROCEEDINGS
[¶7] On February 28, 2013, a temporary custody hearing was held on the State's petition for adjudication of wardship. Temporary custody was granted to DCFS. Following a confirmation of paternity, the respondent was appointed counsel. At a hearing on May 17, 2013, Curtis Jr. was adjudicated a neglected minor based on his injurious environment. The disposition order stated that neither parent had made substantial progress toward the return home of Curtis Jr. A permanency order was entered with the goal that Curtis Jr. would be returned home within 12 months. The order further provided that Curtis Jr. be placed in a foster home with Zaria S., Curtis Jr.'s half sister. Both parents were required to engage in and make reasonable progress in the recommended services, including individual therapy, parent coaching, and substance abuse treatment.
[¶8] By August 13, 2013, neither parent had made reasonable progress toward the permanency goal for the return home of Curtis Jr. within 12 months. The trial court ordered the permanency goal continued. Curtis Jr. remained with Zaria S. in foster care. On March 18, 2014, the permanency goal for Curtis Jr. was changed to substitute care pending the court's determination on the termination of parental rights.
[¶9] II. TERMINATION PROCEEDINGS
[¶10] On June 17, 2014, the State filed a supplemental petition for the appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to the adoption of Curtis Jr. See 705 ILCS 405/2-29 (West 2014). The supplemental petition alleged that Shanea S. and the respondent were unfit in that: (1) both parents failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility for Curtis Jr.'s welfare; (2) Shanea S.
deserted Curtis Jr. for more than the three-month period prior to the commencement of the termination proceedings; (3) the respondent had behaved in a depraved manner; and (4) both parents failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of Curtis Jr. from them and/or failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of Curtis Jr. to them within nine months after the adjudication of neglect or abuse. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (c), (i), (m) (West 2014). On October 6, 2014, Shanea S. executed a consent for the adoption of Zaria S. and Curtis Jr.
[¶11] On November 6, 2014, a hearing was held on the fitness phase of the termination proceedings. The testimony from the fitness hearing is presented for background and context purposes only. In addressing the ultimate issue in this case, our focus is on the evidence presented at the best interest hearing. See In re Tajannah O., 2014 IL App. (1st) 133119, ¶ 3, 380 Ill.Dec. 716, 8 N.E.3d 1258.
[¶12] A. Fitness Hearing
[¶13] Sean Cline was employed as a foster case manager at Children's Place Association and was assigned to Curtis Jr.'s case. Mr. Cline oversaw the respondent's assessment for services. The respondent was ordered to submit to random toxicology screenings. Based on his substance abuse assessment, the respondent was required to complete the outpatient substance abuse program at Haymarket. He was also required to participate in individual counseling services and parent coaching services. The respondent understood that he had to complete these services in order to be reunited with Curtis Jr.
[¶14] The respondent began his individual counseling and parent coaching through Mary & Tom Leo Associates. The respondent was willing and engaged during the individual therapy sessions. According to the parenting coach, the respondent interacted appropriately with Curtis, Jr. during the sessions and would probably benefit just by increasing his knowledge of child development and proper discipline techniques. The individual counseling and parent coaching sessions ended after three months when the respondent was arrested for violating his parole in August 2013.
[¶15] The respondent began submitting to random toxicology tests in April 2013. On July 13, 2013, he tested positive for " cannabinoid." On April 17, 2013, the respondent was assessed for substance abuse and referred to the Haymarket program for treatment. However, he missed three intake appointments and never entered the Haymarket program.
[¶16] Due to his incarceration, both the individual counseling and the parental coaching were terminated unsatisfactory. These service requirements and the substance abuse treatment requirement remained outstanding.
[¶17] The respondent had weekly visitation privileges with Curtis Jr. In addition, the foster mother allowed him to visit Curtis Jr. more frequently. At one point, Mr. Cline felt that the respondent was not taking full advantage of the opportunities for extra visits with Curtis Jr. After he encouraged the respondent to visit more often, the respondent's visits increased. For the first month or two, the respondent's visits with Curtis Jr. were once a week. He increased the visits to twice a week and then to two to three times a week. The respondent's interactions with Curtis Jr. were appropriate.
[¶18] The respondent was arrested in August 2013 for violating his parole. The respondent did not want Curtis Jr. visiting him at the Cook County jail. In early 2014, after his transfer to the Sheridan Correctional Center (Sheridan), the respondent
requested visitation with Curtis Jr. In March 2014, Mr. Cline accompanied Curtis Jr. on a visit with the respondent at Sheridan. Prior to that, his last visit with Curtis Jr. was at the end of July or the beginning of August 2013.
[¶19] Following the March 2014 visit, the respondent did not request any further visits until August 2014. A visit with Curtis Jr. was scheduled for September 2014, but was cancelled due to transportation problems. For Curtis Jr.'s birthday in October 2014, the respondent sent a birthday card with a handwritten note expressing his love and how much Curtis Jr. meant to him. Mr. Cline acknowledged that an incarcerated parent is only entitled to quarterly visits. He further acknowledged that the respondent's toxicology tests were negative in April, May and June 2013.
[¶20] Mr. Cline met with the respondent several times at Sheridan. The respondent told him he was participating in group therapy, a 12-step program and a parenting program for incarcerated fathers. His participation in these programs was confirmed by the correctional counselor. Mr. Cline had received letters from the respondent reporting what programs he was participating in and that he wished to be part of Curtis Jr.'s life. According to Mr. Cline, from the very beginning, the respondent wanted Curtis Jr. returned to him.
[¶21] The respondent testified as follows. He was incarcerated at the time Curtis Jr. was placed in DCFS's custody. Since he was not involved in the drug allegations against Shanea S. that brought the case into the court system, he did not understand why he was required to participate in the services. However, after Mr. Cline explained to him that in order for him to be involved in Curtis Jr.'s life he needed to participate in the services, he began complying with the service requirement.
[¶22] The respondent explained that he did not want Curtis Jr. visiting him at the Cook County jail. It was an unhealthy place, and no physical contact was permitted with Curtis Jr., who was then seven months old. The respondent thought he would serve only 30 days and then be released. However, based on his act in removing his electronic monitoring ...