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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,

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

          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.

         ¶ 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 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 after the mental health assessment, [and] supervised visits."

         ¶ 12 Vincent explained that on numerous occasions she and other DCFS personnel had informed respondent of the need to complete these services and had offered him several different referral options to do so. However, respondent refused to participate in any of the services, indicating that he would do things only through Veteran Affairs (VA) because he believed they were the only ones qualified to work with him due to his combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he "did not trust any other services." (We note that the record indicates respondent is an army veteran who served in Afghanistan.) Vincent contacted respondent's counselor at the VA to see what services they could provide. However, respondent revoked his consent for the VA to share information with DCFS, and Vincent was unable to find out if respondent ever received services from the VA.

         ¶ 13 Vincent testified that although, throughout the life of the case, she repeatedly attempted to engage respondent in services, he refused to cooperate. He would often yell at her over the phone and hang up on her. Vincent stated respondent told her the only way he would participate was "if DCFS gave him a formal and written apology for perjuring themselves and providing the Court with lies about him ***."

         ¶ 14 Respondent visited the minor children only twice, once on Christmas in 2017 and another time in early 2018, despite being allowed to have third-party supervised visits. Respondent identified only his parents, who lived in Indiana, as persons who could provide the necessary supervision.

         ¶ 15 Vincent stated respondent never sent the children cards, gifts, or letters and, as far as she knew, never had contact with them other than the two visits. Vincent said respondent never asked about the children and would ...

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