People v. Johnson (In re H.J.)

Decision Date07 May 2018
Docket NumberNO. 4-17-0951,NO. 4-17-0952 cons.,4-17-0951,4-17-0952 cons.
PartiesIn re H.J., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Shaundra Johnson, Respondent-Appellant). In re L.J., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Shaundra Johnson, Respondent-Appellant).
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

NOTICE

This order was filed under Supreme Court Rule 23 and may not be cited as precedent by any party except in the limited circumstances allowed under Rule 23(e)(1).

Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County

No. 15JA182

No. 15JA183

Honorable Karen S. Tharp, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE DeARMOND delivered the judgment of the court.

Justices Holder White and Steigmann concurred in the judgment.

ORDER

¶ 1 Held: The appellate court affirmed, finding the trial court did not err in finding respondent unfit and concluding it was in the minors' best interests that her parental rights be terminated.

¶ 2 In October 2015, the State filed petitions for adjudication of wardship with respect to H.J. and L.J., the minor children of respondent, Shaundra Johnson. In March 2016, the trial court made the minors wards of the court and placed custody and guardianship with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). In April 2017, the State filed motions to terminate respondent's parental rights. The court found respondent unfit and determined it was in the minors' best interests that respondent's parental rights be terminated.

¶ 3 On appeal, respondent argues the trial court erred in finding her unfit and in terminating her parental rights. We affirm.

¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 5 In October 2015, the State filed petitions for adjudication of wardship with respect to H.J., born in 2008, and L.J., born in 2011, the minor children of respondent and Joseph Johnson. The petitions alleged the minors were neglected pursuant to section 2-3(1) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1) (West Supp. 2015)) because (1) their environment was injurious to their welfare due to Johnson's drug use, (2) they were not receiving the proper care and supervision necessary for their well-being in that respondent failed to make a proper care plan for them, and (3) they were not receiving the proper care and supervision necessary for their well-being in that Johnson failed to make a proper care plan for them.

¶ 6 At the shelter-care hearing, Jodie Williams, a DCFS investigator, testified a hotline report indicated the minors had been left in Johnson's care after respondent left to go to Boise, Idaho, on October 10, 2015. Prior to that date, Johnson was arrested for driving under the influence and had used crack cocaine; both of which were known to respondent when she left the children in Johnson's care. After respondent left, neighbors indicated she asked them to check on the minors. On October 11, 2015, the neighbors observed Johnson engaged in a suspected drug buy on the street while the minors were in the car. Per respondent's request, the neighbors took the minors from Johnson. Respondent told the neighbors she would return on a Tuesday, but she failed to do so and, in fact, did not return until the morning of the shelter-care hearing on October 15, 2015. The neighbors returned the minors to Johnson on October 13, 2015, but they then observed the minors unsupervised near the road. The neighbors called the police.

¶ 7 Williams testified respondent had "convictions of possession and manufacture and delivery of controlled substances in Idaho," as well as "grand theft." She also had her parental rights terminated in Idaho. Given the "long history of drug use on both sides," Williams had "real" concerns about respondent's ability to protect the minors and make proper care plans for them.

¶ 8 The trial court found probable cause to believe the minors were neglected based on Johnson's drug use and respondent's decision to leave the children with him. Finding an immediate and urgent necessity to remove the minors from the home, the court entered an order granting temporary custody to DCFS.

¶ 9 In January 2016, the trial court allowed DCFS to increase unsupervised overnight visitation with respondent. On February 18, 2016, Johnson stipulated to the State's third allegation of neglect. The court accepted the stipulation and found the minors neglected.

¶ 10 The March 2016 dispositional report indicated respondent completed her drug-and-alcohol assessment and her drug drops had been negative for illegal substances. She was participating in counseling, receiving parenting instruction, and visiting with her caseworker.

¶ 11 In its dispositional order, the trial court found respondent unfit, unable, or unwilling for some reason other than financial circumstances alone to care for, protect, train, educate, supervise, or discipline the minors. The court made the minors wards of the court and placed custody and guardianship of them with DCFS.

¶ 12 In April 2017, the State filed motions to terminate respondent's parental rights. The motions alleged respondent was unfit because she failed to (1) maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the minors' welfare (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b) (West 2016)); (2) make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that were the basis for the minors'removal from her (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(i) (West 2016)); and (3) make reasonable progress toward the return of the minors to her within nine months after the adjudication of neglect (February 18, 2016, to November 18, 2016) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m)(ii) (West 2016)).

¶ 13 In August 2017, the trial court conducted a hearing on the State's motions. Macon County Sheriff's Deputy Justin Pinckard testified he responded to a domestic disturbance on February 12, 2017, at a residence in Forsyth. Both respondent and Donald Benson had their names on the lease. Benson stated he had been in a verbal disagreement with respondent based on her belief that he was seeing a coworker. After Benson took respondent's phone and keys and locked her out of the residence, she shattered the window to gain entry. Pinckard described respondent as being "distraught," but no one was arrested.

¶ 14 Beth Hartman, a caseworker with Addus, testified she worked with respondent and Johnson on visits, parenting, employment, and housing. In late 2015 and early 2016, respondent was cooperative. When she started working, "it was hard to meet at different times with her schedule." Hartman stated the children were returned to respondent in April 2016 but removed in August 2016.

¶ 15 Bryanna Gardner testified she had been employed by Heritage Behavioral Health Center from January 2016 to June 2017. Respondent began mental-health counseling with Gardner in October 2016. For each treatment plan, the client "states a goal that they want to work on for treatment." Respondent's treatment plan goals dealt with working on her anxiety, processing her emotions, and substance-abuse treatment. Respondent missed multiple appointments, at times claiming she had to work or was sick. In January 2017, Gardner created a LOCUS report, which helps determine whether treatment should be increased or decreased. Respondent's score indicated she should be involved in outpatient therapy. In March 2017,respondent called Gardner and said she did not want Gardner as her counselor any longer.

¶ 16 On cross-examination, Gardner testified respondent attended five sessions and "progress was being made as far as her being in counseling." However, respondent was not close to being successfully discharged from therapy in March 2017.

¶ 17 Gloria Sampson, a therapist at Heritage Behavioral Health Center, testified respondent was placed in the emotional-management group. During the group sessions, topics included substance-abuse recovery and relapse prevention. Respondent "participated pretty well." Respondent attended more group sessions than she missed. Sampson stated she was not requested to provide a recommendation for respondent's successful or unsuccessful discharge.

¶ 18 Craig Monnett, a visitation supervisor at Addus, testified he worked with respondent on parenting issues. Prior to the minors being returned to her home, respondent's level of participation with Monnett was "good." She was "very cooperative" and "never missed parenting." After the minors were removed, respondent participated, but "it was a tough time" due to the situation. Monnett stated he had concerns about respondent's paramour. During her time working with Monnett, respondent had "at least" four different jobs. Monnett was not concerned with the changes in jobs because respondent "was trying to better herself." Monnett stated respondent had missed one parenting meeting, but she was not engaged in other services at the time of the hearing because she had not contacted him.

¶ 19 On cross-examination, Monnett testified the children came back into care in August 2016 because of respondent's relapse, which she blamed on Johnson. Monnett had a conversation with respondent in September 2016 regarding his concern about having the minors around Benson because of his criminal background. Respondent stated Benson's criminal offenses occurred when he was younger, but Monnett believed she was making excuses for him.

Monnett told respondent she needed to get away from "these bad influences and do it on her own." Monnett and Herbord discussed their concerns about Benson's past with respondent, but respondent "didn't understand it." Although H.J. had stated she was afraid of Benson, respondent told Monnett "that couldn't be because they got along really well when they were there."

¶ 20 In January 2017, Monnett drove to respondent's Forsyth home and saw Benson outside the house. In March 2017, Monnett drove by the home and saw a window had been broken. Although respondent had stated she was in the process of moving, Monnett saw no sign of it. Monnett agreed respondent's issue was not her ability to parent the minors; instead, it was putting the...

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