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.
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
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
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 ...