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In re Estate of McHenry

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

August 26, 2016

In re ESTATE OF CHASE McHENRY, an Alleged Disabled Adult, Respondent
v.
Daniel Shayne McHenry, Cross-Petitioner and Appellant. Laurie McHenry, Petitioner-Appellee,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County, No. 13-P-253; the Hon. Scott Shore, Judge, presiding.

         Affirmed.

          Christopher P. Ryan, of Peoria, for appellant.

          Susan Dawson-Tibbits (argued), of Johnson, Bunce & Noble, P.C., of Peoria, for appellee.

          Panel JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Schmidt specially concurred in the judgment, with opinion.

          OPINION

          CARTER, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Petitioner, Laurie McHenry (Mother), filed a petition under the Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq. (West 2012)) to be named the plenary guardian of the person and estate of her disabled adult son, Chase McHenry. Chase's father, cross-petitioner Daniel McHenry (Father), filed a competing petition to be named Chase's guardian. After a bench trial, the trial court granted Mother's petition and named Mother Chase's sole plenary guardian. Father appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred in naming Mother as Chase's guardian, rather than Father; (2) the trial court's ruling should be reversed because of an undisclosed judicial bias; and (3) the trial court erred in initially setting support to be paid by Father at 20% of Father's income. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 Mother and Father were married in 1990 and lived in Florida. They had two children: Kaitlin, born in 1994, and Chase, born in 1995. Mother and Father separated in 1997, and Mother and the two children moved to Peoria, Illinois, where Mother's family was located. Father remained in Florida. Shortly after Mother moved to Illinois, it was determined that Chase had autism. Mother and Father's divorce was finalized in 2001, and the parties entered into a joint parenting agreement, which gave Mother custody of the children and Father visitation.

         ¶ 4 In June 2013, as Chase was approaching the start of his senior year of high school, Mother filed the instant petition to be appointed the plenary guardian of Chase's person and estate. The petition alleged that Chase was a disabled person because of his autism and that he lacked sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions regarding the care of his person and the management of his estate and financial affairs. A guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed to represent Chase's interests during the proceedings.

         ¶ 5 In October 2013, Father filed a cross-petition for guardianship.[1] In the cross-petition, Father agreed that Chase was in need of a guardian and that Mother was qualified to serve in that capacity. Father asked, however, in Chase's best interest, to be appointed coguardian so that he could participate in decisions as to Chase's education, residential placement, and financial assets.

         ¶ 6 In November 2013, an agreed order was entered appointing Mother and Father as temporary coguardians of Chase. The order also gave Mother and Father time to obtain neuropsychological evaluations of Chase and to investigate the post-high school options that were available to Chase in both Florida and Illinois. In addition, Chase was appointed his own attorney because the GAL had taken a position that was contrary to Chase's wishes.

         ¶ 7 At various points in this case, the parties filed their financial affidavits. Father's financial affidavit indicated that he was 53 years old; that he owned his owned consulting business; that his gross income was approximately $150, 000 a year ($12, 500 a month); that his monthly expenses were approximately $16, 527; that his current spouse contributed a minimum of $2000 a month toward expenses; that he had been paying $1700 a month in child support until May 2014 when child support allegedly ended; that after May 2014, he had been voluntarily paying $500 per month in temporary child support; and that he had approximately $500, 550 in total assets and $76, 400 in total debts. Mother's financial affidavit, which was later amended, indicated that she was 53 years old; that she worked as a certified occupational therapy assistant; that her gross income was approximately $26, 124 a year ($2177 a month); that she had been receiving $500 a month from Father in child support; that her monthly expenses were approximately $5031; and that she had $21, 500 in total assets and $13, 785 in total debts, a large portion of which were legal fees.

         ¶ 8 A bench trial was held on the guardianship petitions in September and October 2014. Going into the trial, the parties were in agreement that Chase was a disabled adult, that he was in need of a guardian, and that appointing Mother and Father as Chase's coguardians was not a workable solution. The trial court, therefore, was called upon to determine, in Chase's best interest, which one of the two parents should serve as Chase's guardian-Mother or Father. That decision would ultimately also determine, in practical effect, whether Chase was going to remain in Illinois or was going to be required to move to Florida.

         ¶ 9 The evidence presented at the trial, although not necessarily in the order presented, can be summarized as follows. Mother testified that she lived in Peoria and had worked for the past seven years in the local public schools as a certified occupational therapy assistant. When Mother and Father separated in 1997, Chase was only about two years old and had not yet been diagnosed with autism. About midway through the year, however, Mother started to notice that Chase was not reaching the developmental milestones and that he had some potential impairment. Mother discussed the matter with the children's pediatrician, Dr. Thomas Halperin, and was referred to a developmental pediatrician, Dr. Andrew Morgan, for Chase to be evaluated. Mother informed Father of her concerns, and Father wanted Chase to be evaluated as well. There was a three-month wait time for the appointment with Dr. Morgan. During that time period, Mother enrolled Chase in an early intervention preschool through Easter Seals and also started Chase in speech and occupational therapy.

         ¶ 10 Mother and Father attended Chase's evaluation together. At the conclusion of the evaluation, Dr. Morgan diagnosed Chase as having pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (an autism spectrum disorder) and possible mental retardation. Chase had no communication skills at the time, had no eye contact or language, and would throw a temper tantrum because he had no way to express what he wanted or to understand what was going on. After the diagnosis, Mother began to research Chase's condition by reading books and other materials; attending seminars; attending Chase's speech and occupational therapy sessions; and by talking to other parents, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and anyone else who would talk to her about Chase's condition. According to Mother, since the day that Chase was diagnosed, she made it her mission to educate herself about Chase's condition and about what could be done so that she could help Chase grow and be as independent as possible.

         ¶ 11 Mother later arranged for Chase to be evaluated in Maryland by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a world-renowned specialist on developmental disorders. After the evaluation, Dr. Greenspan also concluded that Chase was on the autism spectrum. Dr. Greenspan recommended that Mother be very hands-on in interacting with Chase and in getting Chase to make eye contact.

         ¶ 12 Early on, through her research, Mother came to believe that Chase was having seizures. Mother addressed that concern with Dr. Morgan and was told that seizures were very rare in children with autism. Mother persisted in her efforts and, on her own, found a pediatric neurologist in Illinois, Dr. Michael Chez, who specialized in autistic pervasive developmental disorders and epilepsy. After conducting tests, Dr. Chez confirmed that Chase was, in fact, having seizures. Father did not attend the initial testing with Dr. Chez and, as far as Mother knew, never contacted Dr. Chez about his findings. Father did, however, attend one of Chase's later monitoring visits with Dr. Chez. Pursuant to Dr. Chez's recommendation, Chase was started on a daily seizure medication. The results were dramatic. Within the first week, Chase started making eye contact, getting language, and sleeping through the night. Eventually, the seizures went away completely, and Chase was weaned off of the seizure medication.

         ¶ 13 When Chase turned three, he transitioned from the Easter Seals early intervention preschool program to the local public school's special education early childhood program. Chase was in the early childhood program for three years until he was six years old. While Chase was in the early childhood program, Mother advocated for Chase to have a one-on-one aide, but the school district did not have such a person. Chase's teacher filled out a form of all of the duties that an aide would perform for Chase, and Mother called Easter Seals to find out if they had a student or anyone else that really stood out as a volunteer. Easter Seals recommended a person, and Mother and Chase's teacher interviewed that person together. That person got hired by the school district as Chase's one-on-one aide and was paid for by the district.

         ¶ 14 Mother had started an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program by that point, and she asked the student if she was interested in working at home with Chase. The student stated that she was. Mother trained that student, and then that student recruited other students. The students would fill out an application, and Mother would hire those students to work in her home with Chase. The students were paid for their work through the Department of Human Services (DHS) because Chase qualified for funding since his skill level was so low due to his disability. Mother felt that additional home training was important for Chase because Chase had no skills and, for a long time, had no language. He was very behind in academics, had major behavioral issues, and would have meltdowns and would bang his head on the floor, throw himself into the wall, roll around, kick, and scream. Chase would also perseverate on things and would lie down on the ground and kick and scream if he could not get what he wanted. Those issues were what led Mother to implement the ABA program at home.

         ¶ 15 The second year that Chase was in the special education program, Mother requested that he be allowed to spend a portion of the day in the regular division preschool with his typically developing peers. Mother's request was granted, and every day Chase would take his aide and go to the regular division classroom for a brief period. Mother thought it was important for Chase to do so because he needed to learn language and social skills from the typically developing children. Father was not involved in any way in advocating for or obtaining the one-on-one aide for Chase at school, in having an aide work with Chase at home, or in obtaining the funding for the in-home aide. According to Mother, although Father never objected to those things, he never dug in and helped with any of those things either.

         ¶ 16 In 2003, when Chase was six years old, he entered kindergarten. When he did so, the school district wanted to put Chase in a special education classroom, instead of a regular division classroom. After researching the matter, Mother objected. Mother wanted Chase in a regular division classroom to see if it was appropriate for him and because it would be much easier to transition Chase from a regular division classroom to a special education classroom, if that was necessary, rather than the other way around. As a result of Mother's efforts, Chase was placed into regular division classes throughout grade school and was only pulled out of those classes by the special education teachers from time to time to work on his major areas of deficit.

         ¶ 17 Around the time when Chase entered kindergarten, Mother went back to school to obtain an associate's degree in occupational therapy. Mother chose occupational therapy because she was interested in that area and because she needed a schedule that would match Chase's school schedule because there was no appropriate after-school care for Chase. Mother obtained her associate's degree and started working at the local schools in 2008.

         ¶ 18 As noted above, the behavior program that Mother decided to implement at home was the ABA program. The ABA program focused on changing a child's behavior in a very positive manner. In the program, everything was broken down into very simple steps for children who were on the autism spectrum. As Chase got a little older, Mother did other things as well to help Chase participate in class. For example, Chase did not know that he was supposed to raise his hand if the teacher asked a question and he knew the answer. Mother and her students, therefore, set up a pretend classroom in Mother's basement and would play school. A student would pretend that he or she was the teacher, and Mother would sit behind Chase. When the student asked a question, Mother would prompt Chase to raise his hand if he knew the answer.

         ¶ 19 As a result of Mother's efforts, by the time that Chase entered kindergarten, he was able to sit at a table and be attentive to the teacher for a very short period of time. Mother wanted to educate the school on what she was doing at home with Chase (the ABA program), why she was doing it, and why she thought it would help for the school to carry that over into kindergarten and grade school. Mother provided the school with citations to research that had been done on the ABA program so that the school could see that the program had been successful. Mother also provided the school with a list of what she expected from the school and a biography about Chase that she had written so that the school would know as much as possible about Chase, his disability, and about the things that would set him off and cause tantrums. Mother and Chase's aide also put together a list of helpful information for Chase's teacher. In addition, Mother provided Chase's teacher with a notebook for helpful hints-things that the teacher found worked and did not work. That notebook was passed along each year to Chase's new teacher. Mother also went into the classroom and educated the other students about Chase and his disability, so that the other students had a better understanding of Chase and were more likely to accept him.

         ¶ 20 Early on in middle school, Chase took some of his courses in special education and some in regular division. However, as the class work became more difficult, Chase's lack of reading comprehension became more of a problem. Mother went to the school and successfully advocated for Chase to be placed in more special education classes because she felt that he needed more support to be able to do the class work. At a later conference, the special education teacher told Mother that although she did not agree with Mother initially, Mother was right, and Chase was now producing his own work. By the time Chase was in high school, most of his classes were in special education. The only high school classes that he did not take in special education were lunch, physical education, health, and his freshman and sophomore algebra class.

         ¶ 21 Chase had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) starting from when he was in the early childhood program up until the time he graduated from high school. Mother was involved in every IEP conference without exception. Mother called other conferences with the school as well when she wanted to address particular matters with them. Father attended the IEP conference when Chase was being transitioned into kindergarten. The next IEP conference that Father attended was when Chase was a freshman in high school. According to Mother, at the IEP conferences in high school, Father's main focus was on Chase going to college.

         ¶ 22 At Richwoods High School, where Chase attended, there were specific programs offered to help Chase transition to life beyond high school. One such program was the Secondary Transition Education Program (STEP). Chase was enrolled in STEP in 2011, his sophomore year. In that program, Chase worked with Kurt Mankle (the school's work coordinator) and Leigh Bowen (the transition coordinator between the school district and the DHS). Through STEP, Chase obtained work experience, attended work skills classes, and received job-related information. As part of his work experience, Chase worked as a volunteer in the school cafeteria, in the school library, and in the local public library.

         ¶ 23 Chase started working as a volunteer in the local public library in January 2014 during his senior year of high school. Mother had essentially created that position for Chase by going in and talking to the library manager. Chase's job responsibilities at the public library were to alphabetize and shelve books. According to Mother, it was a successful placement in that Chase did an excellent job alphabetizing and shelving and was very polite, but it was unsuccessful in that when patrons came up and asked Chase questions, he could not direct them, even though he had been instructed to send them to the information desk.

         ¶ 24 Mr. Mankle later found Chase a job at Courtyard Estates, where Mankle had other students working. Chase started at Courtyard Estates in April 2014. Chase's job responsibilities at Courtyard Estates were to take the residents' requests for food and drinks; to fill those requests; to clean the tables after the residents were finished eating; to sweep, mop, and change the trash; to fill the condiments; and to roll silverware into napkins in preparation for the next meal time. Chase did not have any problem with the communication aspects of the job. On average, Chase worked at Courtyard Estates four evenings a week for three hours each evening. Chase enjoyed his job at Courtyard Estates. The residents and other staff members really liked him and were very supportive. Chase was not currently receiving any ongoing job coaching or job support services but did receive some job coaching during his first week on the job. The job coach wrote down everything for Chase, and Chase and Mother went over the list each night so that Chase would know what his responsibilities were.

         ¶ 25 Some of the skills that Mother had worked on with Chase over the years, other than academics, included: sorting and putting away his laundry, making simple meals in the microwave, making his own pitcher of lemonade, using the toaster, taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, setting the table, dusting, taking the city bus to and from work (the city bus had a door-to-door service for disabled adults), and locking the door when he left for work. To introduce a new skill to Chase, Mother would break it down into steps, write the steps down, and then practice the steps with Chase. Mother was currently teaching Chase how to use the washing machine, how to do some basic banking functions, and how to use a list to get groceries.

         ¶ 26 With regard to Chase's social development, Mother stated Chase had some friends through school, but it was difficult for him. Chase's one-on-one aide specifically worked on social skills with him at school during physical education class and recess. The speech pathologist worked on those skills with Chase as well. When Chase was younger, he went to birthday parties, took Jazzercise, and went to Sunday school and church. As he got older, he participated in some of the junior high programs where there were a lot of kids involved. When Chase was in high school, he was involved in the Friendship Club, went to basketball games, and would watch his sister swim. Currently, Chase liked to bowl, roller skate, exercise, shoot baskets, read, watch movies, do word search puzzles, collect books, go to the library, visit other libraries, look at maps, have Mother drive him around and find out where streets went, play bingo, and participate in activities through the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association (HISRA). HISRA provided recreational activities for children and young adults with disabilities. Whenever Mother got the new HISRA catalog, she and Chase would sit down and go through it, and Chase would pick out some activities that he wanted to do. HISRA also had a program called "Focus, " which worked on social skills, life skills, and other things. Chase could attend the Focus program anywhere from one to four days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

         ¶ 27 According to Mother, at the time that Chase was diagnosed, there were not a lot of services in central Illinois for children with autism spectrum disorders or for their parents. Mother helped start a support and advocacy group and learned how to write grants to support the activities of the group. The group pushed for services in the area and was successful in doing so. In addition, with the funds that were raised, the group held conferences and brought in experts to speak and to consult with the schools about the services that were being provided. Mother had attended, or her group had hosted, conferences on autism in 1998, 1999, 2005, and 2010.

         ¶ 28 When asked about whether she had a transition plan for Chase, Mother responded that she had been living the transition plan-she had consulted doctors, had consultants come into the school, had educated herself-and that everything she had done and every decision she had made, had been to promote Chase's independence. According to Mother, promoting Chase's independence was the reason why Chase had taken the classes he had taken, was why Chase had been in speech and occupational therapy, was why Chase had been in the work-training program, and was why Mother had enrolled Chase on the Prioritization of Urgency of Need for Services (PUNS) list, the State's waiting list for services. Mother gave a similar response when she was asked why she believed it was in Chase's best interest for her to be Chase's guardian.

         ¶ 29 Mother stated further that she had printed a transition toolkit off of an autism website a few weeks ago and was going through it and had realized that she had essentially done all of the steps that were listed. A copy of the transition toolkit was admitted into evidence at the trial. The toolkit was divided into sections. Each section pertained to a particular topic area that parents were supposed to consider as they were preparing to transition their child from high school to adulthood. Mother went through each section of the toolkit during her testimony and described what she had done in relation to that particular topic area.

         ¶ 30 Starting with the first section, self-advocacy, Mother stated that she believed that Chase needed to be part of the process and that his thoughts and desires needed to be taken into consideration. According to Mother, she started teaching self-advocacy to Chase early on in her ABA program when she taught him how to raise his hand in the classroom. They also worked on self-advocacy a lot at school for Chase to be able to advocate for himself and to say what his needs, desires, and wants were and if he needed help.

         ¶ 31 Section two of the toolkit addressed community living. In her discussion of that section, Mother described how Chase had been successful in riding the city bus to and from work, although he still did not have the skills or capacity to be able solve any problems that arose with the bus. As for safety under community living, Mother stated that from the time that Chase was very young, she had been working with him on such skills as knowing his name, address, and phone number in case he ever got lost; identifying strangers; identifying community members who could offer assistance; knowing how to use a cell phone; and other things of that nature. Mother filled out a chart that showed Chase's community life, social activities, and resources, such as the HISRA and Focus activities. Chase had to wait until the past August, when he turned 19, to participate in some of those activities. Chase had selected some of the programs that he wanted to participate in and was registered for those programs. Another activity that Chase was involved in was the Antioch Group, a weekly interpersonal effectiveness peer group that was specifically tailored for young men who had some form of pervasive developmental disorder.

         ¶ 32 Section three of the transition toolkit addressed employment and other options. According to Mother, she had started working on that aspect of the transition plan in Chase's sophomore year of high school when Chase entered STEP and started taking occupational-type classes. Mother had investigated supported employment and adult day training but believed that Chase's level of functioning was too high for those particular programs. Mother stated that the goal for a disabled person was for the person to be in a competitive employment setting with nondisabled peers and natural supports in place.

         ¶ 33 Section four of the toolkit addressed housing. Mother stated that from the time of Chase's diagnosis, she had thought about the fact that at some point, she might not be here and Chase might need alternative housing arrangements. Chase's high school had held a meeting for parents of disabled children and had gone through the entire process of how to fill out the PUNS application form because the form could be very confusing. After the form was filled out, it was updated every year. Mother submitted Chase's application for the PUNS list in 2011.

         ¶ 34 As Mother's testimony on housing continued, she discussed the questions that she would ask if the time came for her to consider alternative housing arrangements for Chase. Mother would want to make sure that Chase would be happy, so she would consider such things as the staff turnover rate and the staff-to-resident ratio. According to Mother, those things were important because a young adult with autism thrived on structure, routine, and sameness. Mother stated that she did not think she needed a professional to advise her in that process but commented that she knew she had Ms. Bowen, the transition specialist, to guide her and to whom she could turn with questions. Mother also knew that if Chase's name got picked from the PUNS list, the facility that would be doing the screening had been trained to look at what Chase's adult skills were at that point and to determine what type of residential setting would be best. Mother had listed in the toolkit all of the people that she had talked to at different agencies and the notes she had taken. Mother insisted that the notion of Chase living outside the home was not something that she had just started thinking about when Father entered this lawsuit. Rather, Mother had been thinking about the matter from the day that Chase was diagnosed.

         ¶ 35 When asked why she put Chase on the PUNS list instead of considering private pay, Mother stated that the cost of the residential facilities was between $55, 000 and $75, 000 per year, and she could not afford to pay that amount. Mother would have to rely, therefore, either on Father being ordered to private pay for Chase or on funding through the Medicaid waiver program. Mother did not know at that point whether independent or semi-independent apartment living would be an option for Chase and stated that it would probably be more of a group home setting where there was 24-hour supervision. Mother did not believe that Chase needed someone hovering over him 24 hours a day but did believe that he needed to have someone available wherever he was living in case there was a problem. Mother thought that in the future a semi-independent living apartment could be a possibility for Chase as they continued to work on his independent living skills but did not think that it was currently a possibility for him.

         ¶ 36 Section five of the toolkit discussed legal matters, such as obtaining supplemental security income (SSI) or social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. Mother stated that she had talked to the workers at the Social Security Administration (SSA) several times about the possibility of getting such benefits for Chase. Her application for SSDI benefits had been denied, but she was still waiting for a decision from the SSA on her application for SSI benefits for Chase. If Chase received SSI, he would also be eligible for a Medicaid card through the State. Currently, Chase's medical expenses were being paid through Mother's health insurance.

         ¶ 37 As her testimony progressed, Mother briefly described the remaining sections of the transition toolkit. Mother stated that the whole exhibit was a summary of what she had done in terms of transition planning, along with the workshops she had attended, the books she had read, the consultants she had brought into the school with her support group, and the speech and occupational therapy services Chase had received. In Mother's opinion, all of those things were part of the transition plan because they helped Chase reach his current level of independence.

         ¶ 38 When Mother and Father got divorced, child support for the two children was set at $1600 per month. In 2010 or 2011, Mother took Father back to court to get an increase in that amount. The amount was increased by about $600 to about $2285 per month. Father was pretty upset with Mother for going back to court and asking for more child support. According to Mother, she had asked Father twice to increase the amount of support voluntarily by $200 a month, but Father apparently refused. That was the first time since they had gotten divorced that Mother had asked for an increase in child support. When Kaitlin turned 18, the amount of support was reduced to $1700 per month.

         ¶ 39 As for her criticisms of Father, Mother claimed that (1) there were times when Father was with Chase when he was not particularly aware that Chase was ill; (2) the most amount of visitation time that Father had ever taken with the children in the summer was two weeks, even though Father was allowed six weeks of summer visitation under the joint parenting agreement; (3) Father generally only called to talk to Chase about once every six to eight weeks but had started calling twice a week since Mother had been made temporary sole guardian in this case; and (4) Father had gone to only one of Chase's visits with Dr. Chez, although there were scheduling problems for Father with those visits.

         ¶ 40 During her testimony, Mother conceded or acknowledged that (1) from her financial affidavit, it appeared that there was about a $3000 shortfall between her income and expenses each month; (2) she could not say how much her household expenses would change if Chase was allowed to go to Florida or went into a group home; (3) if Chase stayed with her, she was going to need financial support from Father to help with Chase's expenses; (4) she had not visited any group homes in the Peoria area in the past 10 years; (5) she was invited to come to Florida during spring break to examine some of the resources there and to look at some of the facilities that Father was going to be talking about, but she declined to do so; (6) she was aware that Dr. Halperin had also testified or recommended as a possibility that Chase would be better off in a group home; (7) she had told Dr. Robyn Cohen (father's expert witness) that she was not comfortable filling out a parent questionnaire until it had been reviewed by her attorney and that based upon her attorney's advice, she was not going to be participating in the evaluation process; (8) she had talked to Chase about the differences between what she wanted for him and what Father wanted for him; (9) she had told Chase before the appointment with Dr. Kurth that part of the evaluation was to determine whether college was appropriate for him and was not surprised, therefore, that he perseverated with Dr. Kurth about having to go to Florida and about having to go to college; (10) in her deposition, she had estimated it would take Chase two to five years of living at home before she would even consider putting Chase in a group home; (11) she had probably told the GAL that she had no plans at the current time to move Chase out of the house; (12) if she was made guardian, it would be within her discretion to keep Chase at home indefinitely and to receive state services at home; (13) even if Chase's name had been picked from the PUNS list and that he had cleared all of the screenings, she would still visit the homes in question and would determine whether she thought those homes were appropriate for Chase; (14) she worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week during the school year, and Chase worked roughly 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. three or four days a week; (15) she lived in a duplex, her parents lived in the adjoining unit, and there was a pass-through door that went between the two units; (16) her father bought items from people to sell on eBay and was robbed at one point at the duplex by two women and a man with a shotgun; (17) at one point many years ago, one of her nephews was arrested for having 1.4 pounds of cannabis in his car at a time when the nephew was living with Mother's parents in the adjoining unit next door; and (18) she did not tell Father about either the robbery or the drug arrest.

         ¶ 41 Regarding a note that Chase had presented to Dr. Kurth about why he wanted to stay with Mother in Peoria, Mother stated that she was not standing next to Chase when he wrote the note but she had read the note after Chase had written it. Mother had talked to Chase afterwards and had told him that she thought Father understood that a four-year college (something that Chase had mentioned in the note) was not a possibility. Mother had also explained to Chase that although he had said in the note that he wanted to live with Mother and his sister, that was probably not going to happen because his sister was probably going to get married after college.

         ¶ 42 When asked what assurances she could give the court that she would agree at some point to let Chase move out of the house and into a group home or assisted living facility, Mother stated that getting Chase as independent as possible had been the whole purpose of everything that she had done and that if Chase was ready for that step, she would do it. When the time came, in five to seven years, Mother would consult with and obtain guidance from the Community Workshop Training Center. In the meantime, according to Mother, Chase was going to stay in her home, and Mother was going to continue training Chase on life skills. Chase would also be working on those skills in the Focus program.

         ¶ 43 Mother agreed that she and Father had been completely unable to work with each other on the day-to-day details involving Chase, even with the help of outside assistance. Mother felt that Father would not be an appropriate guardian for Chase because Father was unrealistic in his expectations of Chase. Mother did not believe that Father would be physically there for Chase because Father traveled 26 out of 52 weeks of the year. Father and his family took many trips per year and Mother did not know how Chase would maintain any type of employment under those circumstances. Mother also did not believe that Father took Chase's needs and desires into consideration when he was making any of his plans for Chase.

         ¶ 44 Julia Smith testified for Mother that she was the director at Courtyard Estates in Peoria, a supportive living community that provided residential services to people over the age of 65. Chase was employed at Courtyard Estates as a dining room attendant and was doing well in that position. Chase was very polite and well mannered and stayed on task. Chase worked on average three hours a day, five days a week. He did not qualify for paid time off because he did not work the required number of hours. Unpaid time off was at the discretion of Smith. According to Smith, there was currently no possibility that Chase could obtain full-time employment at Courtyard Estates because he was unable to meet the requirements. For a full-time position, Chase would have to pass a cardiopulmonary resuscitation test, which both his caseworker and supervisor did not feel that he would be able to comprehend.

         ¶ 45 Kurt Mankle testified for Mother that he was employed at Richwoods High School as the work coordinator for special education. In that position, Mankle worked with special education students on work compatibility and job skills. Mankle had about 60 students per year. Mankle's goal for each student was first, to get the student some work experience; second, to get the student hired by an employer; and third, to keep the student competitively paid after graduation.

         ¶ 46 Mankle had Chase as a student for three years from Chase's sophomore year through his senior year. Mankle started Chase out by placing him in a voluntary employment position at the high school cafeteria, wiping down tables, so that he could get some work experience. That position was not a competitive employment position, and Chase had his aide with him while he was at work. Chase worked in that position for the first two years. While Chase was in his senior year of high school, Mankle placed him in another voluntary employment position in the high school library, shelving books. After that position, Chase was placed in a third voluntary position at the local public library, shelving books and alphabetizing things. Mother had found that position for Chase and had provided the information to Mankle. Chase worked at the public library for about half of his senior year and did so with the aid of a job coach (an adult who went into the workplace with the student and helped keep the student focused and on task). Chase's position at the public library was not a competitive pay position and was paid through STEP. The placement was successful for Chase in terms of obtaining work experience but was unsuccessful in terms of a competitive pay situation. The public library was not going to hire Chase into a competitive pay position because he was unable to handle patron questions.

         ¶ 47 In addition to participating in the voluntary work positions, Chase also took a work skills class while he was in school. Mankle had talked to Chase at times about what Chase wanted to do in the future. According to Mankle, Chase's response would depend upon what he was doing at the time. If Chase was working in the library, he wanted to be a librarian. If Chase was working in the cafeteria, he wanted to be a custodian. In Mankle's opinion, Chase needed a repetitive job where he would come in and know exactly what to do, something with no variables where Chase did not have to initiate new tasks.

         ¶ 48 In the second semester of his senior year, Chase started working at Courtyard Estates. Mankle had other students that worked at that location and was able to obtain a position there for Chase. Chase cleaned tables and assisted residents in carrying food to their tables. Chase's position at Courtyard Estates was a competitive employment position where he was working with nondisabled individuals. According to Mankle, Chase did very well in the job switch from the public library to Courtyard Estates. Chase initially had a job coach at Courtyard Estates but was weaned off the job coach once the employer said that he was doing well.

         ¶ 49 In Mankle's opinion, Chase was capable of working in a competitive setting as long as there were specific parameters. With the limitations that Chase had, jobs were difficult to find in the Peoria area. It was hard to find competitive placement for a disabled student because many of the jobs that were available required multitasking, which some students with disabilities could not do. If Chase was unable to work at Courtyard Estates for some reason, transition specialist Leigh Bowen would help Chase find another job. Bowen worked on the cases of students who had graduated, and Mankle worked on the cases of students who were still in school.

         ¶ 50 Mankle stated that he had various contacts with Mother over the years at IEP meetings, parent-teacher meetings, numerous calls on how Chase was doing, and forms that Mankle would send home. To the best of Mankle's memory, Mother had attended every IEP meeting and every parent-teacher meeting, both of which were held once a year. Mankle also had some contact with Father over the past few years as well. When Chase was working at Courtyard Estates, Father had contacted Mankle by e-mail to request the address of Chase's employer and the name of Chase's supervisor. Father had also asked Mankle at one point to provide some materials to a neuropsychologist in Florida. As far as Mankle could remember, Father had been present for one parent-teacher meeting and one or two IEP meetings. Father did not, however, play any role in terms of the process that Mankle was engaged in with trying to find employment for Chase.

         ¶ 51 Juli Cranwill testified for Mother that she taught English as a special education teacher at the Peoria public schools. Cranwill had Chase as a student for all four years of high school. Chase had a one-on-one aide and was in some regular division classes and some special education classes. In addition to being Chase's teacher, Cranwill was also Chase's manager and wrote Chase's IEPs for 2011, 2012, and 2013.

         ¶ 52 An IEP was prepared every year for each special education student and set forth, among other things, the student's education goals for the following school year. The IEPs were prepared starting when the student was about 14 years old. That was when the teachers and everyone else involved in the IEP process started to discuss with the student what the student's future path would be, whether it would be a vocational path or an educational path. As part of the process, Cranwill would interview the student, prepare learning objectives, and write up the IEP. A meeting would then be held with all of those involved, and they would talk about the IEP as a team and make adjustments.

         ¶ 53 Part of the IEP was transition planning for beyond high school. Starting with the 2011 IEP, Chase's desire for the future was to work at a library or at Peoria Production (a packaging facility). Chase did not want to go to college because he felt it would be too stressful. Cranwill believed that Chase's goals for after high school were realistic and that he understood what it meant to go to college and to have a job. In Cranwill's opinion, the fact that Chase had autism did not take away from Chase's ability to critically look at his life and to say what he did or did not want and what he was good and not good at. In addition, Chase was amenable to being taught new things, and Cranwill thought that Chase could be trained to do some computer work.

         ¶ 54 Cranwill had contact with Mother several times over the years at IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and some phone conferences. Mother attended every IEP meeting and every parent-teacher conference. Mother would also contact Cranwill regarding questions or problems with things that were going on in class. Cranwill also had some contact with Father over the years as well. Father was present, either by phone or in person, for all of Chase's high school IEP conferences. Cranwill remembered in general that Father wanted to keep the doors open for Chase but could not remember any specific discussions that were had. In addition, in the spring of Chase's senior year, Cranwill attended a meeting at the school that had been requested by Father. Mother was not present for that meeting. At the meeting, Father asked some questions about the vocational program going forward, about Chase's future, and about programming for Chase after graduation. Father also contacted Cranwill a few times by e-mail. The e-mails did not, however, stand out in Cranwill's mind as being anything noteworthy. According to Cranwill, Chase appeared to have a good time with Father over the spring break during his senior year and showed her pictures of the things that he and Father had done together.

         ¶ 55 Leigh Bowen testified for Mother that she had been employed for the past 24 years by the public school district as a transition specialist. Bowen helped oversee STEP in the school district for the DRS and worked with disabled high school students in conjunction with the school's work coordinator, Kurt Mankle. Bowen provided job counseling and support services for the high school students who were in STEP and would help those students find, and be successful in, a job. Each year, Bowen had about 120 students and graduates who were on her caseload.

         ¶ 56 Chase was in STEP and was one of the students or former students who was currently on Bowen's caseload. Bowen had worked with Chase in his current placement at Courtyard Estates and in his previous placements at the high school cafeteria and at the public library. In 2013, Bowen prepared Chase's first individualized plan for employment (IPE), which served as a guideline as to what services Bowen would provide to Chase, such as job counseling and guidance, referrals to community resources, and job training. Chase would hopefully use those services to become, and stay, employed. In the current IPE, the employment goal for Chase was to be a nonrestaurant food server, such as in a nursing home. Although Bowen could close Chase's case after 90 days, she was most likely going to keep it open until Chase's plan was up for renewal in April 2015. The only benefit to Bowen of doing so was that she would be able to see Chase succeed. If a problem arose, Bowen could renew Chase's case and could continue providing services for a longer period.

         ¶ 57 According to Bowen, Chase was doing well in his placement at Courtyard Estates, and there had not been any problems. Chase liked his job and was not bored in that position. Bowen viewed the job at Courtyard Estates as a good fit for Chase because Chase had a very supportive work environment; was not required to multitask or to make decisions on the job; and could go to work, do his job, and then go home, which was what worked best for Chase. The employment at Courtyard Estates was considered to be competitive employment because Chase was paid by the employer. That was the ideal goal for a person with a disability.

         ¶ 58 If Chase was to lose his job at Courtyard Estates for some reason, Bowen would help Chase fill out job applications and would work with another agency to get Chase services to help with job placement and coaching. Bowen believed that there would be another job out there for Chase but that it might be difficult to find. In Bowen's opinion, it was a little harder in the central Illinois area to find a job for someone like Chase because Chase was very concrete in his thinking and had a specific skill set. He was not able to do a lot of multitasking, which many of the available jobs now required. Other students with similar skill sets had been placed at Courtyard Estates and at hotels. Chase was not a candidate for an adult day training program or for sheltered employment because he was too high in functioning for those types of positions. When asked if she thought Chase was possibly too high in functioning for his job at Courtyard Estates, Bowen replied that she thought what Chase was doing at Courtyard Estates was a "perfect fit" for him at that point. Although the State's goal for disabled adults was for them to be placed into some type of full-time employment (40 hours per week), Bowen rarely saw that happen with the students with whom she worked.

         ¶ 59 According to Bowen, Chase had shown the ability to adapt by being able to move from the public library position to the position at Courtyard Estates without any significant incident. Chase could be taught new tasks and was generally agreeable to learning new tasks if they were presented and taught in the right way. Bowen had never evaluated Chase's computer skills but knew that Chase did well in math. Bowen believed that Chase could possibly do a job where he worked in a quiet office environment and entered numerical data from a piece of paper into a chart on a computer if he was properly taught how to do so.

         ¶ 60 Unless Chase complained, lost his job, or was otherwise unhappy in his position, his employment and skills would essentially remain the same. If an opportunity arose for a job that was higher pay or more hours and Chase was interested in it, he could fill out an application and would hopefully get an interview. Neither Mother nor anyone else had requested that Chase be evaluated for working at other jobs or that he receive additional vocational training.

         ¶ 61 Bowen had started working with Chase in July 2012 and had various contacts with Mother over the years. Initially, Bowen would see Mother at IEP meetings. However, as Chase got closer to graduation, Bowen had more contact with Mother, talking to her about different options for Chase's employment, because Chase was not competitively employed until right before graduation. According to Bowen, Mother had been very involved in working with her. Bowen also had some contact with Father over the years as well. Bowen had attended a meeting last spring at Richwoods High School where Father was present. The purpose of the meeting was for Father to find out more information about the post-graduation possibilities for Chase regarding housing, education, and work. Father was interested in Chase going to college. The response of Bowen and the others at the meeting was that college was probably not the best fit for Chase. Bowen did believe, however, that Chase was a good fit for vocational placement. Since Chase had been working at Courtyard Estates, Father had not contacted Bowen at all to object to that placement, to express any negative concerns about the job, or to indicate that he believed that Chase was not reaching his full potential in that position.

         ¶ 62 Martha Atwater testified for Mother that she was one of Chase's special education inclusion teachers for kindergarten through third grade. Chase was in regular division classes at that time as an inclusion student with special education-that meant that Chase was in special education, that he had an IEP, and that the special education teachers designed a program for him, but he was still in a regular division classroom. Chase had a one-on-one aide and would come out of class for special assistance when needed.

         ¶ 63 While Atwater was Chase's special education teacher, she was never contacted by Father for any issues regarding Chase. Atwater had a lot of contact, however, with Mother. When Chase was in kindergarten, for example, Atwater was in daily or weekly contact with Mother for a while. In addition, before each IEP meeting, Mother would meet with Atwater and would talk to Atwater about Chase's current level of progress and about what Mother wanted to see happen regarding Chase's future progress. Mother would also call Atwater with questions about the IEP or about how things were going with Chase. In Atwater's opinion, Mother's relationship with Chase and her contact with the school were always very positive. Mother always knew the latest information on autism and what was going on at the school and was Chase's biggest advocate as to what she felt could be done for Chase.

         ¶ 64 Over the years, Atwater had seen Chase from time to time at different places in the community. At one point within the past two years, Atwater had seen Chase at a local restaurant with Father. Atwater observed Chase and Father for about 40 minutes. According to Atwater, during that entire time period, Father was on an electronic device and did not ...


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