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In re Dal. D.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

April 13, 2017

In re DAL. D. and DAY. D., Minors (The People of The State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Jennifer Durbin, Respondent-Appellant).

         Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 15JA34 Honorable Kevin P. Fitzgerald, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holder White and Appleton concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          STEIGMANN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In May 2016, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent mother, Jennifer Durbin, as to her two sons, Dal. D. (born Oct. 23, 2009) and Day. D. (born June 19, 2008). Following an August 2016 fitness hearing, the trial court found respondent unfit. After an October 2016 best-interest hearing, the court terminated respondent's parental rights.

         ¶ 2 Respondent appeals, arguing that (1) the factual basis to which she stipulated at her fitness hearing was insufficient to prove she was an unfit parent, (2) the court made no findings of fact to support its determination she was unfit, (3) her admission of unfitness was not knowing and voluntary, and (4) the court's finding that Dal. D.'s and Day. D.'s best interest required termination of her parental rights was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 A. Proceedings Prior to the State's Petition To Terminate Parental Rights

         ¶ 5 In March 2015, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging that Dal. D. and Day. D. were neglected minors pursuant to section 2-3(1)(b) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2014)). Specifically, the petition alleged respondent allowed Thomas Keist, a man she knew to be a registered sex offender, to reside in the home, therefore creating an environment injurious to Dal. D.'s and Day. D.'s welfare. The petition also alleged that respondent admitted Keist stayed in her home overnight multiple times after being told by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) that he was not allowed to stay overnight. The petition noted that Keist was convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault of a 6-year-old boy when he was 29 years old and had not completed sex-offender treatment. The petition reported Dal. D. and Day. D.'s father was deceased.

         ¶ 6 In March 2015, the trial court conducted a shelter-care hearing. Respondent stipulated that probable cause existed to believe that Dal. D. and Day. D. were neglected because she "allowed an untreated convicted child sex offender to live in her home [and] *** reported multiple occasions where the sex offender had unsupervised access to the minors." Respondent also stipulated there was an immediate and urgent necessity to remove the minors because she "was previously admonished of the need to be protective of the minors [and] [s]he was specifically told that the sex offender could not reside with her family. [She] was initially deceptive when police and DCFS appeared at her home." The court entered an order placing Dal. D. and Day. D. in the temporary custody of DCFS.

         ¶ 7 In April 2015, the trial court conducted an adjudicatory hearing. Respondent admitted the allegations in the State's petition. Respondent stated she understood the allegations and nothing was promised in exchange for her admission. The State provided its factual basis, which focused on a DCFS investigator who received a report that respondent allowed a sex offender access to her children. The investigator told respondent that Keist was not allowed to be alone with the children or to spend the night in the home. An officer from the Bloomington police department had a conversation with respondent wherein she admitted Keist stayed at her house and was staying overnight. Respondent stipulated to the factual basis. The court accepted her admission and entered an order finding Dal. D. and Day. D. neglected.

         ¶ 8 In May 2015, the trial court conducted a dispositional hearing. The court found respondent was unfit to care for, protect, train, educate, supervise, or discipline Dal. D. and Day. D. because she continued to allow Keist to live with her, and he had not started sex-offender treatment. Respondent continued to downplay the risk Keist posed to the minors. The court based its dispositional findings on the opportunity respondent had to keep her family intact and her decision to put her needs before those of Dal. D. and Day. D. because she refused to separate from Keist. The court further found that it was in the best interest of Dal. D. and Day. D. that they be made wards of the court. The court maintained custody with DCFS and set a permanency goal of returning home in 12 months.

         ¶ 9 In September 2015, the trial court held a permanency hearing. The State filed a visitor's log from the McLean County jail, demonstrating respondent visited Keist five times while he was in jail between September 2, 2016, and September 16, 2016. The court entered a permanency order, finding respondent had not made reasonable and substantial progress or efforts toward returning Dal. D. and Day. D. home. The court found respondent remained unfit, stating (1) her ongoing involvement with Keist was highly concerning, and she did not understand the impact the relationship could have on Dal. D. and Day. D.; (2) Keist was evaluated as high risk to reoffend and had not started his treatment; (3) once Keist engaged in his treatment, respondent could begin chaperone classes; (4) her attendance in individual therapy had improved; (5) she was not invested in domestic violence treatment, and instead, she focused on her complaints regarding DCFS and the criminal justice system; (6) she was unemployed; and (7) she had been inconsistent in her medication monitoring.

         ¶ 10 In February 2016, the trial court held a second permanency hearing. The State filed two incident reports created by the Bloomington police department. The first report, dated January 23, 2016, indicated respondent was arrested for two traffic warrants and ticketed for driving while her license was suspended and driving without valid insurance. A second, February 17, 2016, report indicated respondent and her roommate, Jessica Piper, were in a physical altercation. The officer was unable to identify the primary aggressor, and the case was closed. The court entered a permanency order, finding respondent had not made reasonable and substantial progress or efforts toward returning Dal. D. and Day. D. home.

         ¶ 11 The trial court found respondent remained unfit, stating she (1) was still unable to comprehend the danger a sex offender can be to her children-especially one she trusts; (2) failed to appear for at least two therapy sessions; (3) was ticketed for driving on a suspended license, resulting in her car being impounded; (4) was arrested on two warrants; (5) had police contact for a physical dispute; (6) was homeless; (7) missed six domestic violence sessions and was in danger of needing to restart; and (8) had made all of her visits with Dal. D. and Day. D. The court changed the permanency goal to return home pending status.

         ¶ 12 In May 2016, the trial court held a third permanency hearing. The State filed an exhibit containing five transcribed telephone conversations between respondent and Keist (while he was in jail) that occurred between September 8, 2015, and November 4, 2015. During a conversation on September 21, 2015, respondent said, "[t]hey are making me not talk to you anymore or see you to get my kids back." Keist asked, "So does that mean we're done?" Respondent replied, "No." The transcripts also demonstrated Keist wanted respondent to deceive the court by maintaining they were only friends.

         ¶ 13 The trial court found respondent remained unfit and found (1) she was dishonest about her continuing relationship with Keist; (2) she lost her job; (3) she was homeless; (4) she was unsuccessfully discharged from domestic violence treatment; (5) her therapist opined she does not understand how to keep Dal. D. and Day. D. safe; (6) she was not meeting with her advocate; and (7) the case passed a DCFS legal screen. The permanency goal changed to substitute care pending the termination of respondent's parental rights.

         ¶ 14 B. The Petition To Terminate Parental Rights

         ¶ 15 In May 2016, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights as to Dal. D. and Day. D. Specifically, the petition alleged that respondent failed to (1) maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to Dal. D.'s and Day. D.'s welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2014)); (2) make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the removal of Dal. D. and Day. D. during a nine-month period, August 11, 2015, through May 11, 2016 (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(i) (West 2014)); and (3) make reasonable ...


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