from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria
County, Illinois. Circuit No. 16-JA-132 The Honorable Kirk D.
Schoenbein, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE McDADE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Presiding Justice Carter and Justice Wright
concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 The State filed a juvenile petition against M.T.'s
mother and respondent father claiming that M.T. was
neglected. Respondent filed a motion to strike the
allegations against him, and the State dismissed the
allegations. Subsequently, the court adjudicated M.T.
neglected, determining that the mother contributed to the
injurious environment but respondent did not. At the
dispositional hearing, the court determined that M.T.'s
mother was unfit and that respondent was fit. However, the
court adjudicated M.T. a ward of the court and appointed the
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as guardian
with the right to place. Respondent appeals, arguing that the
appointment was improper. We vacate the trial court's
dispositional order and remand for a new dispositional
3 In May 2016, the State filed a juvenile petition, alleging
that the minor M.T., born May 16, 2016, was neglected and
requesting that M.T. be adjudicated a ward of the court. The
petition stated that M.T.'s mother Jimeka R. was
previously found unfit and that Jimeka reported to DCFS that
M.T.'s putative father, respondent Malcolm T., was
partying all the time and using cannabis. A few days later,
respondent filed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. The
trial court accepted the paternity and held that respondent
was M.T.'s legal father. The court also ordered temporary
custody to DCFS and allowed DCFS to place M.T. with
respondent if it found placement was appropriate.
4 In June, respondent filed an answer to the petition and
moved to strike the allegations against him. The State
dismissed the allegations against respondent but the
allegations against Jimeka remained in the petition. In
August 2016, an adjudication hearing was held in which the
trial court found that M.T. was neglected as a result of her
injurious environment but respondent did not contribute to
5 A subsequent dispositional hearing was held on the same
day. At the hearing, Lauren Grunwald, a DCFS agent, testified
that M.T. had been with her father since she was born. She
visited respondent's home and believed that it was
appropriate and that there were no safety concerns. M.T.
appeared attached to respondent, and they had a strong bond.
She believed that respondent was able to take care of M.T.
and that respondent had family for help and support. However,
she opined that DCFS should be granted guardianship of M.T.
because respondent's drug test was positive.
6 Respondent testified that he previously smoked cannabis
heavily and that he had last used it about a day before M.T.
came home from the hospital but had since quit. Respondent
was born with 6/4 vision, was deemed legally blind, and was
receiving disability. He had broken his eyeglasses and was in
the process of getting a new pair. He may need surgery on his
eyes and was willing to invest in his eye care. If his vision
gets better, he would qualify for a driver's license.
7 The State asked the court to make M.T. a ward of the court,
to appoint DCFS as guardian, to find M.T.'s mother unfit,
to find respondent was fit, and to place M.T. with
respondent. The State urged that respondent have a
"completely clean" drug test before regaining
guardianship of M.T. Respondent argued that he should have
guardianship of M.T. The guardian ad litem (GAL)
opined that it was in the best interest of M.T. if she was
made ward of the court and DCFS was appointed guardian. The
GAL believed DCFS should be guardian because respondent had
previously tested positive for marijuana and had been
"lackadaisical" about improving his vision.
8 The trial court found that respondent was a fit parent but
held M.T.'s mother was unfit. It further determined that
it was in the best interest of M.T. to be ward of the court
and appointed DCFS as guardian with the right to place,
stating "We do have a father who's very new at it
and does have a health issue that needs to be addressed. And
then also, the Court needs some confidence that the marijuana
smoking is conquered. So I think it's in the best
interest that the guardian initially be DCFS." It
ordered respondent to complete a service plan to
"correct the conditions which caused the child to be in
foster care." The court explained that the goal was
"to make a transition of the child into
[respondent's] care." The court further stated:
"And given that you're a new parent, I want a period
of time where I can have some confidence that there is no
problem. It appears that that's the way it's going to
be. So I fully expect that if everything goes well, the next
court date we can close this case out and have you as the
guardian." Respondent appealed.
9 In December, a permanency hearing was held. In the
permanency report, Grunwald stated that M.T. was residing
with respondent and that he was providing safe housing. A
November 14, 2016, status report showed that M.T. had lived
with respondent from May 2016 to November 2016.
11 Respondent argues that the trial court improperly
appointed DCFS as guardian with the right to place despite
its determination that respondent was a fit parent in
accordance with section 2-27 of the Juvenile Court Act of
1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-27 (West 2016)). Respondent
contends that awarding DCFS guardianship with the right to
place commits the child to DCFS ...