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In re J.B.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 26, 2019

IN RE J.B., a Minor
Nicholas B., Respondent-Appellant). (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee,


Page 954

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 17JA42 Honorable Brett N. Olmstead, Judge Presiding.

          John B. Hensley, of Champaign, for appellant.

          Julia Rietz, State's Attorney, of Urbana ( Patrick Delfino and David J. Robinson, of State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Office, of counsel, and Brittany J. Whitfield, law school graduate), for the People.

         JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Turner and Cavanagh concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Respondent, Nicholas B., is the father of J.B. (born November 2015) and S.C. (born July 2013). In May 2019, the trial court found respondent was an unfit parent, and in July 2019, it found termination of respondent's parental rights would be in the minors' best interests. Respondent appeals, arguing that the trial court's best-interest determination was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree and affirm the trial court's judgment.


Page 955

          ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 A. The Petition for Adjudication of Wardship

         ¶ 4 In July 2017, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship against respondent and Karen B., respondent's wife and mother of the minor children, alleging J.B. and S.C. were neglected minors as defined by the Juvenile Court Act (Act) due to their being minors less than 18 years of age whose environment is injurious to their welfare when they reside with their parents because that environment exposes them to domestic violence. 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2016).

         ¶ 5 At the October 2017 adjudicatory hearing, Karen and respondent stipulated to the allegations in the petition. The State offered a police report as a factual basis to support the stipulation. The report indicated that in July 2017, Karen and respondent got into an argument during which Karen threatened to "slit her wrists" and respondent (1) slammed her into walls, (2) pointed a gun toward himself and asked her to shoot him, and (3) threatened to shoot himself. The report indicated that all these events took place in front of the minor children. The court found that the police report provided a factual basis for the stipulation, accepted the stipulation, and found the minors were neglected.

         ¶ 6 Later that month, the trial court conducted a dispositional hearing. Following that hearing, the court entered a written order in which it (1) found that it was in the best interest of the minor children and the public that they be made wards of the court and (2) adjudicated the children to be neglected minors. The court also found that (1) Karen was fit, able, and willing to exercise custody of the minors and (2) her retaining custody would not "endanger the minors['] health o[r] safety and is in the best interest of the * * * minors." The court further found that respondent "so far has not been fully cooperative with DCFS in their efforts to gather information to help address [his problems]." Accordingly, the court found respondent unfit and unable for reasons other than financial circumstances alone to care for, protect, train, or discipline the minors, and the court further concluded that it would be contrary to the minors' health, safety, and best interest to be in his custody.

         ¶ 7 The trial court ordered that (1) guardianship of the children be placed with the guardianship administrator of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and (2) their custody be removed from respondent. The order also admonished the respondent parents that "if they fail to correct the conditions which required the children to be in care by completing the service plans, cooperating with any after-care plan[,] and complying with the terms of this order, they risk loss of custody and termination of parental rights."

         ¶ 8 B. The Termination Hearing

         ¶ 9 In February 2019, the State filed a motion for termination of respondent's parental rights. The State alleged respondent was an unfit parent because he (1) failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the minor children within the nine-month period between May 2018 and February 2019 and (2) failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the minors' welfare. 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (D)(m)(ii) (West 2018). The petition did not include Karen.

         ¶ 10 1. The Fitness Proceedings

         ¶ 11 In May 2019, the trial court conducted the fitness portion of the termination hearing to address respondent's parental fitness. Tracy Vincent testified that she was the supervisor of the DCFS caseworkers assigned to the case, and she had

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been working in that capacity since DCFS received the case in October 2017. Vincent stated that she had met or spoken with respondent between 10 and 12 times and respondent "was found to be in need of anger management, domestic violence services, a mental health assessment, anticipated counseling ...

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