A mother was found to be a fit parent of her 2 minor children ages 9 and 10 and a father was found to be an unfit parent, however, the court awarded temporary custody and guardianship of the minor children to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Illinois State Supreme Court Ruling: Placement of a minor with a 3rd party requires the prerequisite consideration of parental fitness.
- The two minor children lived with their father, Larry. The relationship between Larry and his girlfriend and also the mother of his two minor children, ended after 6 years.
- Larry struck one of the minor children when they were 6-years-old after a bed wetting incident on their buttocks and face, leaving multiple bruises.
- Larry had a criminal history that consisted of a battery charge and 2 DUIs.
- Larry entered into an agreement in court with DCFS, in which the children would reside with their paternal grandparents and Larry could not live with the children because the court found the children were neglected.
- Heather, the children’s mother, had stable housing in Peoria and obtained a CNA certificate and training in phlebotomy. Heather was not addicted to alcohol or illegal substances, had passed a random drug screening, and had never been arrested.
- Heather took prescription medication for bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and depression.
- A Lutheran Social Services of Illinois caseworker concluded that Heather would be able to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing environment to the children.
- The Guardian Ad Litem appointed by the court for the minor children also found Heather to be a fit parent.
- However, both the State Prosecution and Guardian Ad Litem agreed that DCFS should be appointed as guardian of the two children.
- Heather contended that her children’s placement with the DCFS was not necessary
- Heather requested the court to grant her custody and guardianship of her children
- The trial court concluded that DCFS was to be appointed guardian of the children, although the judge agreed with the Guardian Ad Litem and caseworker that the mother was fit.
- The judge ordered Heather to correct conditions such as taking a mental health assessment to determine if counseling was needed.
- The judge’s order did not provide basis to support a finding of inability or unwillingness to care for her children.
- Heather appealed the trial court’s ruling.
- At the appellate court hearing on this matter, the State conceded that specific reasoning as to why Heather was unable or unwilling to care for the children was not articulated previously.
- Thus, on January 23, 2015, the appellate court ruled that the lower court violated the Juvenile Court Act of 1987.
- A court must find that a fit parent is unable, for other than a solely financial reason, to care for, protect, train, discipline the minor, or is unwilling to do so.
- The State appealed the appellate judge’s ruling to the Illinois State Supreme Court.
- The State argued to the State Supreme Court that the Juvenile Act of 1987 authorizes a trial court to place an abused, neglected, or dependent child with someone other than a parent if that placement is necessary based on the best interests of the child even without showing that both parents are unfit, unable, or unwilling to care for the child.
- On December 1, 2016 the judge ruled that placement of a minor with a 3rd party requires the prerequisite consideration of parental fitness.
- The Juvenile Court Act did not authorize placing minor children with a 3rd party without finding that both parents were unfit, unable, or unwilling to care for their children.