In re KH, 2-03-0274.

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation804 N.E.2d 1108,281 Ill.Dec. 813,346 Ill. App.3d 443
Docket NumberNo. 2-03-0274.,2-03-0274.
PartiesIn re K.H., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Tabitha H., Respondent-Appellant).
Decision Date20 February 2004

Michael J. Conway (Court-appointed), Waukegan, for Tabitha H.

Michael J. Waller, Lake County State's Attorney, Waukegan, Martin P. Moltz, Deputy Director, State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, Elgin, Paul Benjamin Linton, Northbrook, for the People.

Presiding Justice O'MALLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

Respondent, Tabitha H., appeals the orders of the circuit court of Lake County, finding her an unfit parent pursuant to sections 1(D)(g), 1(D)(m)(i), and 1(D)(m)(iii) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(g), (D)(m)(i), (D)(m)(iii) (West 2002)), and terminating her parental rights with respect to her daughter, K.H. Respondent contends that the trial court's orders were against the manifest weight of the evidence. We affirm.

On April 2, 2002, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, alleging that she was unfit to parent her child. Specifically, the State alleged that respondent failed to protect K.H. from injurious conditions, failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the original removal of K.H., and failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of K.H., within both the initial nine-month period following the adjudication of neglect and any nine-month period thereafter. A bench trial ensued.

Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) reports that were admitted into evidence at trial explained the history of K.H.'s case. K.H. was born on December 15, 1997. The first incident involving domestic violence occurred in January 1999 when respondent's paramour, Edward Golden, bit K.H. on the cheek, causing a bruise. Respondent was "indicated" as a result of this incident. On April 11, 1999, K.H. sustained a fractured leg, again at the hands of Golden. K.H. received no medical treatment for this injury until six days later when respondent finally took her to a hospital. At the hospital, respondent offered conflicting explanations for K.H.'s injury but finally admitted that it was inflicted by Golden. Respondent was asked to have Golden leave her home. Respondent refused and made a care plan for K.H. to reside with respondent's sister. Golden was arrested for domestic battery for a separate incident where respondent was the victim. On June 14, 1999, a court ordered that Golden have no contact with either respondent or K.H. Following Golden's incarceration, K.H. was returned to respondent. K.H. was adjudicated neglected on October 7, 1999. After his release from jail, Golden was found living with respondent and K.H. On December 10, 1999, the court granted the State's emergency motion to change placement. The court placed K.H. with her maternal grandparents. On October 19, 2000, respondent gave birth to a son, of whom Golden was the father.

Cynthia Peterson, a caseworker with Central Baptist Family Services, testified at trial. She stated that she became involved with respondent's case in July 2000. In July 2000, Peterson met with respondent to discuss the objectives and tasks of respondent's service plan. Respondent was given an overall satisfactory evaluation for each objective and most of her assigned tasks. On December 19, 2000, K.H. was returned to respondent.

Three weeks later, on January 9, 2001, when Peterson arrived at respondent's home to take K.H. to daycare, she observed a "very large hand print" on the child's face. Peterson described the mark as "a perfect hand print on her cheek." Peterson asked respondent what had happened. Respondent replied that she had returned home from work late the night before and had not noticed the mark on K.H.'s face until the next morning when she got up. Respondent stated that she asked Golden, with whom she was once again cohabitating, what had happened and he replied that he had been "slap boxing" with K.H. while respondent was at work. Peterson testified that respondent defended Golden and "tried to rationalize that they had been playing." Respondent and her children were placed in a shelter until Golden was arrested and incarcerated. After that, they were allowed to return home.

On February 2, 2001, respondent's progress on her service plan was again evaluated. The goal was for K.H. to remain at home with respondent. On respondent's objective of improving her parenting skills, she was given an overall evaluation of satisfactory. On respondent's objectives of addressing domestic violence, cooperating with services, and securing stable housing, she was given overall evaluations of unsatisfactory. Respondent had discontinued her domestic violence counseling, was unable to pay her rent and utilities, was not working, and had allowed unapproved persons to watch her children.

On July 5, 2001, respondent and her children were evicted from their home for failing to pay rent. Respondent arranged for K.H. to live with respondent's parents and for her son to live with Golden's parents. On August 15, 2001, Peterson again evaluated respondent, establishing a single objective for respondent of providing for the safety of her children via a number of assigned tasks. Peterson also evaluated respondent on the objectives of the earlier plan. Respondent was given an overall evaluation of unsatisfactory because she had been evicted from her apartment and did not have a place to live. Peterson also pointed out that the service plan for that period mandated that respondent continue to cooperate with the service plan that was created on December 14, 2000. One of respondent's tasks outlined in that service plan was to "actively participate" in domestic violence counseling. Peterson testified that respondent discontinued domestic violence counseling in January 2001 and had not resumed it by August 2001.

Peterson testified on cross-examination that respondent regularly visited K.H. while K.H. was living with her grandmother. Also, respondent maintained regular contact with Peterson while Peterson was assigned to respondent's case. Peterson testified that respondent had cooperated fully in the investigation and resolution of the January 8 domestic violence incident. Peterson testified that she was taken off respondent's case because her one-year assignment to the case had expired.

Marcia Staggs testified that, like Peterson, she was a caseworker for Central Baptist Family Services. On October 22, 2001, respondent's case was transferred to Staggs. Staggs' testimony, along with documentary evidence that was introduced at trial, described proceedings that took place on September 26, 2001, one month prior to Staggs' assignment to the case. Following a hearing conducted on September 26, 2001, the court removed K.H. from the custody of respondent and placed her with her maternal grandparents. Prior to that date, K.H. had resided with her maternal grandparents under a voluntary arrangement with respondent. A permanency order entered on the same date as the custody order provided that respondent was not allowed to remove K.H. from the custody of the grandparents. The same permanency order changed K.H.'s permanency goal from return home to private or subsidized guardianship. A transcript of the permanency hearing is not included in the record on appeal, but Staggs testified that her understanding of the reason for these changes was that Golden was about to be released from prison and respondent had made a statement that she intended to return to him.

Staggs also testified about respondent's progress in overcoming her problems with domestic violence. Staggs stated that, at the time that she took over the case on October 22, 2001, respondent had not participated in any domestic violence counseling since January 2001. Staggs prepared a new service plan and, in November, met with respondent. On December 10, 2001, Staggs evaluated respondent's performance. Respondent was given an unsatisfactory evaluation on each of the four objectives that she was assigned. Respondent was rated unsatisfactory on addressing domestic violence issues because, at the time of the evaluation, respondent still had not participated in any domestic violence counseling. Respondent also was rated unsatisfactory on parenting because she had not attended parenting classes as she had been directed. Further, respondent was rated unsatisfactory on the objective of attending mental health counseling because she had attended no mental health counseling. Respondent's progress also was rated unsatisfactory on the tasks of maintaining a job for at least six months, obtaining housing after paying a $3,000 debt, visiting K.H. weekly, developing a budget, and choosing her children over her paramours. Finally, respondent did not attend staff meetings, administrative case reviews, or court hearings. Staggs testified that, overall, respondent was very uninvolved with the case. As an example, Staggs cited the fact that respondent had called her only once during the 90 day review period, and that was to discuss her other child. Staggs also pointed out that no service plan tasks had been completed during the 90 day period.

For a period of approximately six weeks, from late December 2001 to early February 2002, respondent resided at A Safe Place, a domestic violence shelter. While respondent lived at the shelter, she received services related to various topics, including domestic violence, and she consistently visited K.H. The services that respondent received were mandatory if she was to reside at the shelter. Against Staggs' advice, respondent left the shelter three days before she was scheduled to be discharged, in order to move in with a 45year-old paramour. Staggs recommended that respondent, instead, move in with a female friend, move to a halfway house, or find some other arrangement that did...

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