Legal Consequences of Baby's Birth With Cocaine In His System

In In re S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d 88, 174 Ill. Dec. 259, 598 N.E.2d 456 (1992) the original reason for the Department of Children and Family Services intervention was the minor's birth with cocaine in his system. S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d at 91. In considering whether the respondent mother had made reasonable progress, the court noted that the "benchmark" for measuring such progress is "the situation which triggered the initial removal" of the minor or "the conditions in existence when custody was taken." S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d at 119. In evaluating the mother's progress, the court stated: "The situation that triggered the removal of S.J. was the birth of the child with cocaine in her system--or arguably the mother's use of cocaine and other mood-altering drugs. We know little else about the relevant conditions at the time of the neglect adjudication. Other than the facts that S.J. was born with cocaine in her system, that the mother had had a previous 'cocaine baby,' and that the mother admittedly used cocaine for some time prior to the neglect adjudication, there is little record evidence of the general conditions surrounding the initial neglect adjudication." S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d at 121-22. In so stating, the court reiterated its previous conclusion that the mother had made substantial progress in dealing with her drug addiction, albeit not strictly in the manner contemplated by the DCFS's service plans. See S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d at 120. Contrary to the fourth district's assertion, there was no evidence of any dangerous condition that had not been remedied. This court followed S.J. in In re A.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d 903, 231 Ill. Dec. 34, 695 N.E.2d 551 (1998). There, too, the minor was born with cocaine in her system. In assessing the respondent father's reasonable progress, the court noted that "evidence of the precise conditions at the time of the neglect adjudication is not essential to the determination of whether a parent has made reasonable progress." A.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d at 913. The court further stated: "Nevertheless, even in this context, DCFS service plans ought to be directed to the parental deficiencies that led to the removal of the child. By definition, progress requires movement from some point to some other point. In other words, there must be a yardstick by which progress can be measured. While the yardstick need not necessarily be the condition which caused the child's removal in the first place, it must, as we held in S.J., bear some relationship to a parental shortcoming that would inhibit the return of the child to the parent. " A.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d at 913-14, citing S.J., 233 Ill. App. 3d at 120. The father in A.J. had completed a substance abuse evaluation, taken parenting classes, attended visitations regularly, and provided verification of housing and income. However, the trial court terminated his parental rights because he failed to attend outpatient drug treatment and Al-Anon sessions. The only basis for the former requirement was unsubstantiated hearsay that respondent had failed two or three drug tests; the only basis for the latter was unsubstantiated hearsay that he continued to have a relationship with the minor's mother (an admitted drug user). Respondent denied both these allegations. This court reversed the trial court's judgment, stating: "The State utterly failed to establish--at least by competent evidence--that respondent had a drug problem that hindered his ability to raise his child or that he was having a destructive relationship with the child's mother that required him to undergo counseling. The only reason for terminating respondent's parental rights was his failure to comply with administrative directives that had nothing to do with his ability as a parent." A.J., 296 Ill. App. 3d at 916.