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In Re Bredendick





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR HAMILTON, Judge, presiding.


Sharon Bredendick *fn1 appeals the trial court's appointment of a guardian with the power to consent to the adoption of her two minor children, Otto, Jr., and Karen, and contends that the State failed to show her unfitness as a mother by clear and convincing evidence.

It appears that Otto, Jr. (born July 11, 1967), came into care of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in 1972, when his mother was hospitalized and his father unable to care for him because of the demands of his employment. During this period of placement, the boy was visited by Otto, Sr., on an undesignated number of occasions, and he was eventually returned to the care of his parents. Then, on August 31, 1973, Sharon was discovered lost in the downtown area of Chicago in the company of Otto, Jr., and Karen (born August 30, 1972). Sharon was placed in the Reed Zone Center for psychiatric care, and petitions were filed for the adjudication of wardship for Otto, Jr., and Karen, with the trial court finding that there was probable cause to believe that Otto, Jr., and Karen were neglected and in immediate and urgent need of a temporary custodian or guardian for their care and protection. In light thereof, the children were placed in the temporary custody of DCFS until October 1, 1973, when further proceedings were to be had. No transcripts of the proceedings on that date or of the subsequent proceedings of February 8, 1974, were included in the record, but it does appear that on the latter date both children were found to be neglected and were placed in the guardianship of DCFS until they reached 21 years of age or further order of court.

In October 1973, the children were placed and have continuously remained in the licensed foster home of Sharon Sherrick, who (in March 1975) at the request of DCFS wrote to Sharon Bredendick but received no response.

In June 1975, Doris Tankesley, a social worker for DCFS, was assigned to the Bredendick case. Upon reviewing department records, she made determinations that the parents required greater rehabilitation and that it was questionable whether the children would ever be returned to them. In attempting to contact the parents, she sought out Sharon at McFarland Zone Center but was informed that she had left that institution in June 1975, against its recommendation. Doris wrote six or seven letters to the hospital and to the address of Sharon's parents, but received no response.

On February 9, 1976, Doris received a call from Otto, Sr., and a meeting was arranged at a DCFS office on February 13. At that meeting, Otto, Sr., at first stated that it was Sharon's actions which caused the children to come into care, but later he admitted that his own behavior had contributed to their placement. Otto, Sr., told Doris that they had returned to Chicago from Sharon's parents' home in Springfield in June 1975, but that he had hesitated in contacting DCFS until he was satisfied that Sharon would not suffer a relapse. Doris was shown a letter from Dr. Firling, stating that in his opinion Sharon was ready for the return of the children. During the course of this meeting, Sharon repeatedly asked whether she would be seeing the children that day and, on each occasion, Doris replied negatively. Otto, Sr., also informed Doris that he had been working on a daily-pay basis for some time, and it appears that when Doris ended the meeting she said that she would contact Dr. Firling; that she would investigate the possibility of setting up an undesignated program of counseling for the parents; that she recommended that Otto, Sr., should stabilize his employment situation; that if at some future time return of the children appeared imminent, the parents would have to secure a larger apartment; and that as progress was made in these areas, DCFS would arrange visits with the children.

Doris next met with the parents on May 12, 1976, in their apartment. As an indication of what the parents would encounter upon return of the children, she informed them that Otto, Jr., was having problems in school and was experiencing emotional difficulties, and that Karen would present a problem as she had grown very attached to her foster parents. The Bredendicks responded by assuring Doris that they could handle these situations, which they did not view as real problems. Doris was informed by Otto, Sr., that he was then on disability, and both parents were told that she was transferring their case to a DCFS worker who serviced the area where they resided (the Bredendicks had changed residences subsequent to their initial visit with Doris).

Julie Hanson, a DCFS social worker, was assigned to the Bredendick case in March 1977, and she testified that upon reviewing department records she decided to contact the parents to ascertain Sharon's capability in light of her history of psychiatric hospitalization and to determine whether Otto, Sr., was abstaining from alcohol. On May 4, she telephoned the Bredendicks and arranged for a meeting at their home two days later. On arriving at their apartment building in the company of her supervisor, Julie observed that Otto, Sr., was associating with a group of men on the front steps; that there were beer cans on such steps; that the building was rundown, with several broken windows; and that the Bredendick apartment was dingy and messy. She inquired of the Bredendicks why, after failing to contact Karen or Otto, Jr., for so long a time, they were now asking for the return of the children. Otto, Sr., replied that he felt it would be good for his wife to have the care of the children, as she needed something to do. Julie and her supervisor then suggested the special needs of the children and the children's lack of contact with the Bredendicks indicated that their return would involve a big adjustment, to which Otto, Sr., replied that an adjustment would not be difficult because upon the children's return home everything would be fine. Sharon was then asked how she would avoid getting lost with the children should they be returned. She replied that it was no longer a problem, as she did not go far from her apartment and generally stayed in the neighborhood. Otto, Sr., then interjected that it would be his responsibility to take the children to the store and buy groceries. When Julie suggested that the Bredendicks attend a regular counseling program to air their feelings about the children's return and to discuss the adjustment problems which would attend their return, they responded that seeing Dr. Firling was sufficient and that they believed nothing would be necessary. Sharon then indicated that she saw Dr. Firling once a week for a five-minute session, during which he asked her how she was doing, and when she replied that she was doing fine, he dispensed her the medicine she needed for the ensuing week. Thereafter, Julie apprised them of some of the children's educational needs but admittedly did not go into great detail.

On May 24, 1977, Julie conducted a prescheduled visit between Karen and her parents at a DCFS office. At first, Karen appeared nervous and needed reassurance that her foster mother was present in a nearby room. For approximately 20 minutes Karen remained very quiet and then repeatedly inquired as to how long she had to visit with the Bredendicks. In another five minutes, Karen began to cry and Julie suggested that if the visit were terminated at this point perhaps Karen would not be so frightened at their next visit. The Bredendicks apparently did not object to this procedure.

On June 2, 1977, Julie visited the Bredendicks and asked for an evaluation of their visit with Karen. They replied that it had been fine, and when Julie informed Otto, Sr., that she had smelled liquor on his breath during the visit with Karen, he replied that as a joke someone had poured a drink on him before he left home that day. They both answered that their lawyer *fn2 had explained a letter from an endocrinologist which had been presented at a previous court hearing and both were asked concerning their understanding of Otto, Jr.'s condition, which had been diagnosed by the endocrinologist as psycho-social growth retardation due to maternal deprivation. Otto, Sr., replied that his son would be given more milk and vegetables. Julie then told them that the problem was so serious that nutritional alterations were not a complete remedy; that the doctor's finding revealed that Otto, Jr.'s growth rate had been retarded by the emotional environment in their home; that any emotional trauma could cause their son to stop growing again; and that this was the reason why DCFS had not scheduled visits with Otto, Jr., and had limited visitation with Karen. Sharon responded by stating that if her son were returned, she would avoid further growth stoppages by giving him more milk and vegetables. The Bredendicks were also asked how they would handle the needs of children this age (Otto, Jr., was then almost 10 years old and Karen was close to five years old); i.e., taking them shopping, enrolling them in school, etc. Otto, Sr., replied that Sharon could handle these matters and, if she could not, he would. Sharon responded with the statement that she was afraid to go too far from the neighborhood for fear of becoming lost. In answer to a question as to what they did each day, Sharon told Julie that she cooked chicken and watched television while Otto, Sr., said that he remained in and around the apartment to discharge the duties of his employment by showing apartments to prospective tenants. Julie ended the interview by asking why, after so little contact with the children, they now sought their return. Otto, Sr., replied that he now felt his wife was okay and needed the children to make her happy and give her something to do.

Julie scheduled another visit with Karen at a DCFS office for June 14, and when Karen was escorted to the visiting room she balked and refused to enter. Julie and the foster mother invented a fantasy that they were attending a tea party. As they acted out the fantasy, Karen calmed sufficiently to allow the foster mother to leave. The Bredendicks were then admitted and asked to continue the fantasy with Karen. This visit lasted approximately 10 minutes longer than the first, but eventually Karen became fearful and nervous. When she demanded to leave, the visit was terminated. No further visits with Karen were requested.

On July 27, 1977, the Bredendicks petitioned for the return of their children, alleging that because of her mental disability, Sharon had been placed under medical care at the Reed Zone Center "which prevented her from exercising the amount of care and guidance over said child[ren], she would otherwise have exercised"; that Otto, Sr., had been unable to provide sufficient care and guidance for the children, as he was working day and night when he could find employment through temporary labor services; that Sharon has recovered and is capable of caring for the children; and that Otto, Sr., now manages the apartment building where they reside and thereby has the opportunity to provide care and guidance for the children. The record does not contain information regarding what proceedings, if any, were had on this petition.

On January 24, 1978, the State petitioned for the appointment of a guardian with the power to consent to the adoption of the children, alleging that the Bredendicks failed (a) to maintain a reasonable degree of interest in their children, (b) to correct the reasons for removal within 24 months of the adjudication of neglect, and (c) to make reasonable progress toward the return of the children within such time period; that at the time of his 1973 placement with DCFS, Otto, Jr., showed signs of (a) severe neglect (including lack of speech and language development), (b) hoarding of food, (c) extreme aggressiveness, and (d) severe growth retardation; that such problems have been alleviated since placement; that at the time of her placement, Karen also displayed symptoms of severe neglect; and that "[a] court clinical conducted on both parents by Blanchard B. Reeb, M.D. and Robert Bussell, M.D. on June 22, 1977, found `there is no evidence whatsoever that the natural parents have any capacity at all for providing for the needs of these two children, nor that they in any way are aware of, or sensitive to the needs of the children * * *. I would urgently recommend that the court move toward termination of parental rights.'"

At a hearing on the State's petition, Doris and Julie testified to the contents of the meetings outlined above. In addition, both gave opinions based upon their expertise as social workers and contacts they had with the parents. Doris opined that during the time she was on the case the Bredendicks had made only very small gains toward rehabilitation and did not appreciate the children's problems or the difficulties attendant with their return. Julie was of the opinion that the natural parents had no understanding of the children's needs; that they were concerned only with their own needs; and that they have not altered their lifestyle or attitudes toward coping with the children since their placement. ...

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