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In re M.C.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

July 27, 2018

In re M.C., a Minor
v.
Sean C, Respondent-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County No. 16JA111 Honorable Thomas E. Little, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE DeARMOND delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Harris and Justice Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          DeARMOND JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 In August 2016, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship with respect to M.C., the minor child of respondent, Sean C. In December 2016, the trial court made the minor a ward of the court and placed custody and guardianship with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The State filed a motion to terminate respondent's parental rights in October 2017. Following a hearing on the State's motion in January 2018, the court found respondent unfit. In February 2018, the court determined it was in the minor's best interests that respondent's parental rights be terminated.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, respondent argues the trial court erred in (1) finding him unfit and (2) terminating his parental rights. We affirm.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 In August 2016, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship with respect to M.C., born in October 2015, the minor child of respondent and Sandra F. The petition indicated respondent resided at Graham Correctional Center. The State alleged the minor was neglected pursuant to section 2-3(1)(a) and (b) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(a), (b) (West 2016)) because she was not receiving the proper care as necessary for her well-being because police officers were dispatched to a rollover accident, where the car suffered major damage. Officers found no one in the car but did find two nearly empty bottles of liquor, an item of drug paraphernalia, baby clothing, and a baby bottle. An investigation revealed Sandra F. was driving the vehicle and children were in the car at the time of the crash. Sandra F. denied being in an accident and did not take the children to the hospital because she did not want to be arrested. Her driver's license was invalid, and a child reported Sandra F. had been beaten up by her boyfriend. Based on the reported accident, the State also alleged the minor was abused pursuant to section 2-3(2)(i) and (ii) of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i), (ii) (West 2016)) because her parent, immediate family member, or any person responsible for her welfare created a substantial risk of physical injury, by other than accidental means, which would be likely to cause death, disfigurement, impairment of physical or emotional health, or loss or impairment of any bodily function.

         ¶ 5 The trial court found probable cause for filing the petition based on Sandra F.'s issues with substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence. The court granted temporary custody to DCFS.

         ¶ 6 By the time the State filed the verified petition for adjudication, respondent had been identified as the father of M.C. He was, at that time, in the Illinois Department of Corrections and had been since before M.C. was born. After genetic-test results were obtained, a judgment of parentage was entered naming respondent as the father of M.C. in November 2016.

         ¶ 7 In December 2016, the trial court found M.C. was abused or neglected because she suffers from a lack of support, education, or remedial care due to Sandra F.'s substance-abuse, mental-health, and domestic-violence issues. In its December 2016 dispositional order, the court found respondent was unfit and unable to care for, protect, train, educate, supervise, or discipline the minor and placement with him is contrary to the health, safety, and best interests of the minor because he will be imprisoned until 2024. The court also found Sandra F. similarly unfit and unable to parent M.C. because of her substance-abuse, mental-health, and domestic-violence issues. The court adjudicated the minor neglected, made her a ward of the court, and placed custody and guardianship with DCFS.

         ¶ 8 In October 2017, the State filed a motion to terminate respondent's parental rights. The State alleged respondent was unfit because (1) he is depraved in that he has been convicted of 13 felonies since 1990 and is currently serving an 18-year prison sentence for armed violence with a projected release date of February 2024 (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(i) (West 2016)); (2) M.C. is in the temporary custody or guardianship of DCFS, and respondent was incarcerated as a result of a criminal conviction at the time the motion to terminate parental rights was filed, prior to incarceration respondent had little or no contact with M.C., and his incarceration will prevent him from discharging his parental responsibilities for M.C. for a period in excess of two years after the filing of the motion to terminate parental rights (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(r) (West 2016)); and (3) M.C. is in the temporary custody or guardianship of DCFS, respondent was incarcerated at the time of the filing of the motion to terminate parental rights, respondent has been repeatedly incarcerated as a result of criminal convictions, and his repeated incarceration has prevented him from discharging his parental responsibilities for M.C. (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(s) (West 2016)). The State likewise proceeded to terminate Sandra F.'s parental rights.

         ¶ 9 In January 2018, the trial court conducted a hearing on the State's motion, and respondent appeared in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Lacey Smith, a child-welfare specialist with DCFS, testified she had been the case leader for M.C.'s case since November 2016. The service plan required respondent to address issues involving substance abuse, mental health, and parenting. Smith was unsure whether respondent was offered substance-abuse or mental-health services with the Illinois Department of Corrections, but respondent did complete two parenting classes. Smith had "some communication" with respondent, and he sent letters and pictures he had drawn for M.C. Smith stated respondent had been in prison since March 2016 and had not successfully completed his service plan. Because his projected release date is 2024, Smith stated respondent would be unable to discharge any parental responsibilities until then.

         ¶ 10 On cross-examination, Smith stated she had never gone to the prison to meet with respondent, and she had not reviewed the service plans with him. Respondent had a visit with M.C. in January 2017.

         ¶ 11 Vicki Brown, a visitation specialist with Youth Advocate, testified respondent's visits with M.C. began in January 2017 and continued once a month for one hour. The initial visits were "tough" because M.C. was young and she "did a little bit of screaming." Brown stated respondent did try to interact with her. At subsequent visits, M.C. did not cry as much, and respondent read ...


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