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In re L.O.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

November 1, 2016

In re L.O., a Minor
Kristyn S., Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County, No. 14-JA-201; the Hon. David J. Dubicki, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.

          Susan K. O'Neal, of Peoria, for appellant.

          Jerry Brady, State's Attorney, of Peoria (Judith Z. Kelly, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel), for the People.

          Louise Natonek, of Peoria, guardian ad litem.

          CARTER JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.



         ¶ 1 The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) filed a juvenile petition, alleging that the minor child, L.O., was neglected and seeking to make the child a ward of the court. After hearings, the trial court found that the child was neglected and that the child's mother, respondent Kristyn S., remained dispositionally unfit. The trial court made the child a ward of the court, named DCFS as the child's guardian, and ordered respondent to complete certain tasks. Respondent appeals the dispositional order, arguing that the trial court had no authority to order her to complete the tasks assigned because a service plan had not yet been filed by the caseworker as required by statute. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 Respondent and Daniel O. (father) are the biological parents of the minor child, L.O., who was born in August 2014. At the time of L.O.'s birth, respondent informed hospital personnel that she had an open child welfare case with DCFS and that she had previously been found unfit in two juvenile court cases pertaining to her other children. In addition, the hospital staff tested L.O.'s umbilical cord blood and found it to be positive for cocaine. The hospital personnel contacted the DCFS hotline, and DCFS took protective custody of L.O. A few days later, the trial court held a shelter care hearing and granted DCFS temporary custody of L.O. L.O. was placed with his paternal grandparents.

         ¶ 4 DCFS subsequently filed a juvenile neglect petition as to L.O. in the trial court. The petition, as later amended, alleged that L.O. was a neglected minor because he had been subjected to an injurious environment in that: (1) respondent was previously found unfit in two other juvenile cases in April 2013, and there had been no subsequent finding of fitness; (2) respondent had not completed the services that would result in the return home of L.O.'s siblings or a finding of fitness; (3) respondent had a history of a substance abuse problem involving alcohol; (4) the father had a substance abuse problem involving cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol; (5) the father had a criminal history and was currently involved with the drug court program in Peoria County; and (6) L.O.'s umbilical cord tested positive for cocaine on the date of his birth. The father and respondent filed answers to the amended juvenile neglect petition and either stipulated to, or did not demand strict proof of, the allegations contained in the petition.

         ¶ 5 In December 2014, an adjudicatory hearing was held on the amended juvenile neglect petition. Respondent was present in court for the hearing with her attorney. The father, who was in prison, was not present at his own request. Based upon the parties' answers to the amended petition, certain exhibits that were presented (the medical and drug records and the trial court files from the prior juvenile cases involving respondent's other children), and a proffer from the State, the trial court found that L.O. was a neglected minor.

         ¶ 6 A dispositional hearing was held immediately thereafter. A dispositional report, one addendum, and an integrated assessment report (collectively referred to as the dispositional report or the report) had been prepared for the hearing by the caseworker. Respondent did not show up for her appointment with DCFS workers for the integrated assessment interview, so information that had previously been gathered had to be used for that portion of the integrated assessment. Of relevance to this appeal, the dispositional report indicated that the father was currently in prison. Respondent was living at times with her mother and at other times with her new boyfriend. Respondent had previously been referred for the following services (presumably as a result of the prior juvenile court cases involving her other children): (1) to complete individual counseling, a domestic violence course, and a parenting course; (2) to perform random drug tests; and (3) to attend scheduled visits with her children. According to the report, for the most part, respondent had not been making progress on those services, although she had attended a few counseling sessions. At the end of the report, the caseworker recommended that respondent be ordered to complete most of the same services.

         ¶ 7 During the dispositional hearing, the caseworker was questioned by respondent's attorney about whether a service plan had been filed and about the services that he was recommending for respondent. The caseworker stated that the family had a service plan in place, but it had not been provided to the parties or to the court in this case because it had not been updated. In addition, the family had a visitation plan in place, which also had not been provided to the parties or to the court in this case. When specifically asked, the caseworker could provide no reason for why the visitation plan had not been distributed. When asked about the services he was recommending, the caseworker acknowledged that he had not yet referred respondent for a new substance abuse assessment and stated that he did not do so because he did not want to overwhelm respondent. The caseworker commented that in his experience, requiring too many services at one time was a setup for failure.

         ¶ 8 During the argument portion of the dispositional hearing, the State asked that the trial court adopt the caseworker's recommendations, as contained in the dispositional report, regarding the services or tasks that respondent should be required to complete. In addition to those services, the State also asked that respondent be required to obtain a psychological evaluation and to participate in an updated integrated assessment interview. Respondent's attorney argued against some of the services that had been recommended and asked the trial court to only assign those services that respondent actually needed. Respondent's attorney claimed that the caseworker had ignored the one problem that respondent was known to have-a substance abuse problem. Respondent's attorney pointed out that pursuant to the applicable statutes, the caseworker was supposed to file with the court a visitation plan within 10 days after the ...

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