from the Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 17JA42
Honorable Brett N. Olmstead, Judge Presiding.
B. Hensley, of Champaign, for appellant.
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.
STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Turner and Cavanagh concurred in the judgment and
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
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
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
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
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