In re Veronica J.

Decision Date01 March 2007
Docket NumberNo. 4-06-0849.,4-06-0849.
PartiesIn re VERONICA J., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Julie Yarbrough, Respondent-Appellant).
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Justice APPLETON delivered the opinion of the court:

In May 2006, the State filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent, Julie Yarbrough, as to her daughter, Veronica J. (born May 26, 2003). Following an August 2006 hearing on the State's petition, the trial court found respondent unfit. After a September 2006 best-interest hearing, the court found it would be in Veronica's best interest to terminate respondent's parental rights. (The court also terminated the parental rights of Veronica's father, Chad J.; however, he is not a party in this appeal.)

On appeal, respondent argues (1) the trial court's findings of unfitness were against the manifest weight of the evidence and (2) the court erred in terminating her parental rights. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 4, 2004, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship, alleging Veronica was dependent because she was without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian to care for her. Respondent mother was then a juvenile herself and was "in custody" in a separate case (Logan County case No. 02-J-11). Paternity had not been established, although Chad was named as Veronica's putative father. Chad's paternity was later established. The trial court entered a shelter-care order, finding an immediate and urgent need to remove the minor from respondent's home (it is unclear from the record where respondent and Veronica were living at the time).

On April 22, 2004, respondent, who was then 15 years old, admitted that Veronica was a dependent minor and agreed to continue the matter for one year under the supervision of the trial court pursuant to section 2-20 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Juvenile Court Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-20 (West 2002)). The court entered an order continuing the matter under supervision for one year conditioned upon respondent's cooperation with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in this matter as well as in Logan County case No. 04-JA-2 (wherein respondent was the dependent minor). The supervision was also conditioned upon respondent attending school "each and every day, each and every class for the full class period." She was to use her best efforts to maintain passing grades in each and every class and any absence, tardiness, or truancy, not caused by illness, would be deemed a violation of the court's order.

On May 20, 2004, the State filed a petition to revoke the continuance, alleging that on April 30, 2004, respondent "ran away from her foster home" and did not return until she was detained by the police on May 1, 2004. The petition also alleged respondent was "not using best efforts to maintain passing grades in each and every class at school."

On September 2, 2004, respondent admitted the allegations in the State's petition to revoke the continuance. On November 4, 2004, the trial court entered an adjudicatory order pursuant to section 2-4(1)(a) of the Juvenile Court Act, adjudicating Veronica dependent because she was without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian. The court based its finding on respondent's "age, unwillingness to comply with authority, foster placement, and prior detention." On the same day, the court entered a dispositional order, finding it was in Veronica's best interest that she be made a ward of the court and placed in the custody and guardianship of DCFS.

On May 2, 2006, the State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights, alleging she was unfit because she had failed to (1) make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the child's removal (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(i) (West 2004)); (2) make reasonable progress toward the return of the child within the initial nine months following adjudication (November 4, 2004 through August 4, 2005) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(ii) (West 2004)); and (3) protect the child from conditions within her environment that were injurious to the child's welfare (750 ILCS 50/1 (D)(g) (West 2004)).

Testimony at the August 25, 2006, fitness hearing revealed the following. Upon removal, Veronica was placed by DCFS with her paternal grandmother, Rose Falcone. Chad and Rose's brother, Oscar, lived in the same house as well. On February 18, 2006, the Lincoln police department executed a drug-search warrant on Falcone's residence, naming Oscar as the primary target. When the police arrived at the residence, they found Chad, respondent, and Veronica asleep in a garage that had been converted into a bedroom. The police recovered approximately 14 pounds of marijuana, scales, smoking devices, and cash from the residence. The police found open beer bottles (some empty and some partially full) in the room where Chad, respondent, and Veronica were found.

In her interview with the police, respondent said she was residing at Falcone's house as well. (It is not clear from the record if DCFS approved of this living arrangement.) She knew Chad and Oscar sold drugs out of the house. She had seen Chad sell drugs from the same room in which she slept. Veronica was also present during those transactions.

Respondent testified that she turned 18 years old on August 14, 2006, the week before the hearing. At the time of the hearing, she was living with her 19-year-old friend, Katy Day. She had been living with her for "a couple of weeks." Prior to living with Katy, respondent lived with another friend, Angie Cronin, for one month and with respondent's grandmother (name unknown) for "a few months" before that. She was working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at Maple Ridge Care Center, where she had been employed for one week. Prior to working at Maple Ridge, she had worked as a CNA at Kraus Retirement home for "a few days." She left Kraus in May 2006 to accept employment at Maple Ridge, but she did not start at Maple Ridge until August 2006. Between May and August, respondent was unemployed. As of the date of the hearing, she had not received a paycheck from Maple Ridge. She had not paid Angie, Katy, or her grandmother rent when she lived with each of them.

Respondent testified that she had been receiving $100 per month from DCFS but, because she had recently turned 18, she would not be receiving that support any longer. Her only means of support would come from employment. She had planned to obtain her own residence at an apartment complex that was being remodeled. At Maple Ridge, she earned $6.50 per hour and worked 40 hours per week.

Respondent stated that she chose to leave her grandmother's residence and live someplace else. She did not have Veronica living with her at that time. If Veronica was with respondent, she would move back to her grandmother's.

Kelly Brooks, a DCFS caseworker, testified that she had been working with respondent in this case since 2004. In addition to Veronica's case, Brooks worked with respondent on her own dependency case, which was closed when respondent turned 18. Brooks also had an open case with respondent and Chad's four-month-old daughter, Carmen J. (born April 2006), who had also been adjudicated neglected and dependent.

The case plans in Veronica's case were dated March 21, 2005, August 22, 2005, February 6, 2006, and June 16, 2006. Brooks personally delivered each of those plans to respondent. One of respondent's tasks was to obtain suitable housing. Brooks said she was unaware that Oscar lived at Rose Falcone's house, and had she known, Veronica would not have been placed there. After the February 18, 2006, drug search, Veronica was placed in a traditional foster home, where she remained. Respondent had not maintained any permanent residence.

After February 2006, DCFS added the requirement to respondent's case plan that she remain drug- and alcohol-free, and respondent was referred for a drug and alcohol assessment. To date, respondent has not complied.

Brooks also testified that respondent had not maintained consistent employment since 2004. She was supposed to obtain her general equivalency diploma (GED), but she has failed to do so. While she was pregnant (it is unknown to which pregnancy Brooks refers), DCFS placed her in the "homeward bound program." Respondent was dropped from the program for failing to comply.

Brooks further testified that respondent had been court-ordered to comply with a psychological evaluation. DCFS received approval for the evaluation in May 2006, but respondent had failed to cooperate and obtain one. As of April 2006, DCFS required that respondent attend a parenting course, but she had failed to comply. Respondent was also required to demonstrate responsible decision-making, which, according to Brooks, she had failed to do. For example, while respondent was a ward of the court, she failed to remain in her DCFS-assigned placement. Brooks opined that respondent's failure to complete her education and the drug and alcohol evaluation were also examples of respondent's poor decision-making. In addition, respondent had not followed through with visitation with Veronica. She had not visited Veronica between May 2006 and August 2006. Between February 2006 and April 2006, respondent frequently attended her weekly visitation. Respondent's visitation was sporadic in April and May and had been nonexistent since.

Brooks testified that she was the caseworker for respondent's juvenile case. In 2002, when respondent was 14 years old, DCFS filed a petition for adjudication of wardship based upon respondent's truancy issues. Respondent was involved in a relationship with Chad at the time. Pursuant to her case plan, respondent was required to complete her education. At the time, she had successfully completed eighth grade. Respondent had been placed in six or seven different foster placements, and, according...

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