from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will
County, Illinois. Circuit No. 16-JA-42 The Honorable Paula A.
Gomora, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justice Holdridge concurred in the judgment and opinion.
1 The respondent, Donald W., appeals from the circuit
court's order terminating his parental rights as to his
minor daughter, Z.M. On appeal, the respondent argues that
(1) his right to due process was violated throughout the
proceedings terminating his parental rights, (2) the trial
court's finding that he was an unfit parent was against
the manifest weight of the evidence, and (3) the trial
court's finding that it was in Z.M.'s best interest
to terminate his parental rights was against the manifest
weight of the evidence. We affirm.
2 I. BACKGROUND
3 On March 22, 2016, the State filed a petition alleging that
Z.M., who was almost two years old, was a neglected minor
pursuant to section 2-3(1)(b) of the Juvenile Court Act of
1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2016)) in that her
environment was injurious to her welfare. On the same day, a
shelter care hearing took place.
4 A. Shelter Care Hearing
5 At the shelter care hearing on March 22, 2016, Minnie Carr,
a child protection specialist with the Department of Children
Family Services (DCFS), testified that on March 20, 2016, she
investigated a report of a domestic dispute at the apartment
where Z.M. resided in Rockdale, Illinois. A police officer
told Carr that the apartment had "reeked of marijuana
upon his entry" and that respondent had called the
police because someone had pulled a knife on him. Z.M.'s
mother was not at the apartment when Carr arrived. At the
time of the incident, respondent had not yet established
paternity regarding Z.M.
6 Carr testified that respondent told her that, when he awoke
that morning, Z.M.'s mother and the cousin of Z.M.'s
mother were in the living room smoking marijuana and he
confronted them. According to respondent, he was going to
remove Z.M. from the home, but a knife was pulled on him and
he called police. Respondent indicated that he lived in the
apartment and that he has had custody of Z.M. for the past
1½ years. Respondent later gave Carr an address for
where he actually resides in Chicago, Illinois. Respondent
could not participate in a safety plan for Z.M. because his
paternity of Z.M. had not been established.
7 Carr spoke with Ariel, the cousin of Z.M.'s mother.
Ariel indicated that she lived in the apartment but
Z.M.'s mother did not live in the apartment. Another
cousin of Z.M.'s mother- Yolanda-indicated that
respondent did not live in the apartment but he was allowed
to visit Z.M. whenever he wanted and he sometimes spent the
night. Ariel and her children lived in the apartment, and
Yolanda was in the process of moving into the apartment.
Yolanda showed Carr a letter from Z.M.'s mother granting
Yolanda permission to care for Z.M. until further notice.
Carr also spoke with Z.M.'s mother, who indicated she was
unsure if respondent was the father of Z.M.
8 The trial court found probable cause to believe that Z.M.
was neglected due to an injurious environment. The factual
basis for the trial court's finding was that a domestic
dispute took place between Z.M.'s mother and respondent
at 4 a.m. after respondent attempted to remove Z.M., Ariel
pulled a knife on respondent, and the apartment reeked of
marijuana. The trial court also noted that respondent had not
established paternity. The trial court placed Z.M. in shelter
care and reiterated that the basis of its finding was
"the domestic dispute between the parents, smoking of
marijuana, and the natural father not establishing paternity
of the minor." The trial court ordered that Z.M. be
placed in the temporary custody of DCFS and admonished
respondent and Z.M.'s mother to fully cooperate with DCFS
to correct the conditions that required Z.M. to be removed or
they would risk the termination of their parental rights.
9 The trial court also ordered respondent to submit to a
paternity test. The results of the paternity test confirmed
respondent's paternity of Z.M.
10 B. Adjudication Hearing
11 On July 28, 2016, at the adjudication hearing, the parties
stipulated that Z.M.'s environment was injurious to her
welfare and that Z.M. was a neglected minor, with the factual
basis being that there had been "a domestic disturbance
where [her] mother's cousin had pulled a knife on [her]
father and the minor was present" and cannabis was being
used in the home where the minor was residing. The trial
court accepted the stipulation of the parties and found that
Z.M. was neglected in that her environment was injurious to
her welfare. At that time, a service plan had not yet been
established for respondent because he had missed two
different appointments for an assessment interview. The trial
court ordered respondent to complete the assessment interview
with DCFS to determine what services he may need. The trial
court admonished respondent as follows:
"So you are going to need to do that fairly quickly
because in the next 30 days, we are going to have what is
called a disposition, which will determine whether or not
[Z.M.] should be made a ward of the Court.
And you will want to go through the service plan with your
attorneys so that they can kind of, they can look at the
service plan and decide also with you whether or not the
services are those that would be beneficial to you so that
you regain custody of your child.
This is your child. So you should be as involved as you can
be at this point. That means visiting, engaging the services,
making an effort, making progress with regard to the
If you are not getting the services in a timely fashion, you
need to talk with your lawyers. That is what they are here
for. They will in turn contact the caseworker and hound her
to make sure that you get into the services that you need or
let me know about it the next time we get together so I know
that you are not getting the services that you need in order
to get your child back.
Our intention is not to keep your child in foster care for
any longer than we have to. And the 'have to' portion
depends on you. Okay. So it is very, very important that you
are compliant with the agency, that you do the services that
are requested and demonstrate that you are able to safely and
appropriately parent your child. That is all we are looking
12 The trial court indicated that respondent's interview
would determine which services would be necessary so
respondent should set that up as soon as possible.
13 C. Dispositional Hearing
14 On October 26, 2016, a dispositional hearing took place.
The State entered into evidence the dispositional report, an
addendum to the dispositional report, and the service plan
dated October 13, 2016, with no objection from respondent. In
the dispositional report and addendum, the caseworker
indicated that respondent had been attempting to complete
substance abuse treatment since March 2016, tested positive
for marijuana several times since the beginning of the
program, "recently" tested positive for both
marijuana and cocaine (in September 2016), and was referred
to an intensive outpatient program due to the positive drug
screen and missed drug drops. The caseworker noted
respondent's substance abuse would have to be continually
monitored "due to extensive use since eighteen."
Respondent was to complete services of substance abuse
treatment, random drug testing, individual psychotherapy, and
domestic violence classes. He was also required to maintain
adequate housing and income, improve his parenting skills,
and maintain an interest in the case. No other evidence was
presented. Respondent's attorney noted that respondent
was scheduled to complete parenting classes on October 29,
2016, and he was "actively involved" in substance
abuse classes, had stable housing in Chicago, Illinois
(although he admittedly still needed to provide proof of his
housing to the caseworker), had "income from a legal
settlement that occurred sometime ago," and was working
(although he admittedly still needed to provide his pay stubs
to the caseworker).
15 The trial court found that it was in the best interest of
Z.M. to make her a ward of the court and found both parents
unfit to care for, protect, train, or discipline Z.M., with
the factual basis being that "both parents have yet to
complete services outlined in their service plan in order for
the minor to be returned home safely." The trial court
ordered that Z.M. be placed in the custody and guardianship
of DCFS, granted visitation at the discretion of DCFS, and
set the permanency goal for Z.M. as returning home within 12
months. The trial court did not admonish respondent that he
had the right to appeal.
16 D. Proceedings Following the Dispositional Hearing
17 1. Permanency Review Hearings
18 On April 26, 2017, at a permanency review hearing,
respondent's attorney indicated that respondent had
completed substance abuse treatment (on November 15, 2016),
was in individual counseling, and had supervised visits with
Z.M. multiple times per week. The guardian ad litem
reported that, while respondent had completed his substance
abuse program, he "tested dirty a week before he was
discharged" and had missed a random drug drop in
December 2016. The trial court ordered that drug screens be
performed more frequently to determine "with certainty
that there is progress." The trial court found
respondent had made substantial progress toward the goal of
returning Z.M. home and set the permanency goal as returning
home within 12 months.
19 On October 3, 2017, at a permanency review hearing,
respondent's attorney acknowledged that respondent needed
to "work on his drug drops" but indicated that
respondent had been visiting Z.M. and had completed
individual counseling. Reports from the guardian ad
litem and the caseworker indicated that respondent had
completed substance abuse treatment on November 15, 2016,
failed to appear for a drug screen on June 21, 2017, had a
clean drug screen on July 12, 2017, failed to complete a drug
screen on August 4, 2017 (due to respondent producing too
little urine and then leaving the building even though he had
been asked to remain in the building to try again), and
failed to appear on September 15, 2017. The result of the
drug screen performed on September 27, 2017, was still
pending. The caseworker reported that since the last court
date respondent had completed individual therapy, was
currently addressing domestic violence issues in therapy, and
had two-hour supervised visits with Z.M. once per week.
Respondent was allowed to visit Z.M. twice per week but
failed to indicate another day that he was available to do so
each week. On September 20, 2017, respondent had submitted
proof of employment at a temporary staffing agency and three
check stubs, each for one day of employment. The trial judge
stated, "I am going to order that the agency take the
case to legal screening, whatever the results are," and
changed the permanency goal to "return home pending
20 On November 6, 2017, at a status hearing, the caseworker
indicated that the legal screening had not yet taken place.
The respondent's attorney indicated that she was
concerned that respondent had not been receiving any drug
testing. The caseworker explained that she had not been
requesting drug drops because respondent had tested positive
for marijuana at the end of September and was still
"dropping dirty" after completing treatment. The
trial court indicated that the permanency goal was still
returning home "so services should continue."
21 On November 17, 2017, the caseworker confirmed that the
matter had passed legal screening. The trial court continued
the case until January 3, 2018, for a status on the filing of
the termination petition. On January 3, 2018, the assistant
state's attorney stated:
"My first nine-month period is from July of 2016 to
April of 2017. Dad was satisfactory during that period. I
don't have a second nine-month period. My second
nine-month period doesn't end until January 28th.
So I can't file anything until after January 28th.
Now, during the second nine-month period, there is no
progress; but during the first nine-month period, I've
22 On February 21, 2018, at a status hearing, the assistant
state's attorney confirmed that she had not filed a
termination petition because during the first nine-month
period respondent had been rated as "satisfactory"
and she had been waiting for the completion of the second
nine-month period. The assistant State's attorney
indicated that she wanted to review the caseworker's
report to "determine whether or not there ha[d] been any
changes or if [she could] file a petition to terminate."
The caseworker reported that respondent had tested positive
for marijuana in September 2017 and January 2018. The
caseworker indicated that she offered to refer respondent to
substance abuse treatment in his area but respondent had
indicated that he had a provider and he would contact the
caseworker with the information of that provider so that she
could provide a referral. Respondent confirmed that he was
waiting on "Gateway to call [him] back." The
following colloquy ensued:
"[RESPONDENT'S ATTORNEY]: Isn't the agency
supposed to be making referrals instead of having dad do it?
THE COURT: Yes.
[ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY]: I believe she indicated
that she was having him call her with places in his area so
that she can refer him.
THE COURT: Can't you reach out to DCFS in Chicago to see
what services are available near him so he doesn't have
to hunt them down. I mean I understand if there are services
in his area, but ...