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05/13/94 F.W. AND C.W. v. JULIA WEST

May 13, 1994


Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 93J13. Honorable John R. DeLaMar, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected June 27, 1994.

Honorable James A. Knecht, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable Frederick S. Green, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Knecht

JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court:

Julia West appeals from the order of the circuit court of Champaign County finding her daughter, F.W., to be a neglected minor. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 37, par. 802-3.) We find no error and affirm.

West is the mother of T.W., born August 5, 1977, and F.W., born June 6, 1979. West is the grandmother of T.W.'s child, C.W., born October 18, 1991. In January 1993, T.W. was in the custody of the Youth Correctional Center in Warrenville, Illinois. F.W. and C.W. resided with West. On January 18, 1993, after investigating a report West had abused F.W., the State filed a petition alleging F.W. and C.W. to be neglected and abused minors (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 37, par. 802-3), and alleging C.W. to be a dependent minor.

At the adjudicatory hearing on May 28, 1993, the court took judicial notice of West's testimony at the shelter-care hearing. There, West testified T.W. became pregnant at the age of 13. Thereafter, West became fearful she had not been as observant as she should have been, and she wanted to "keep better tabs" on F.W. On January 17, 1993, F.W. went skating without permission. When she returned, West scolded her for doing so. During this conversation, West additionally addressed other topics, including F.W.'s recent suspension from school and whether F.W. had been going to Planned Parenthood. F.W. was not responsive, so West began "pushing on her." F.W. started "running off at the mouth." West continued "pushing on her," and then picked up a board and swung it "not to hit [F.W.] or damage her or anything, but to let her know, to try to like scare her to get her on the right track." West acknowledged threatening F.W. with the board was a poor decision. The following testimony was also received at the adjudicatory hearing.

Jacqueline Ward, a child welfare specialist with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), testified she became professionally involved with the West family on January 18, 1993. F.W. told Ward she and West had gotten in an argument because she had gone skating without permission and because West believed F.W. had taken money from C.W.'s bank. F.W. told Ward that usually West uses her fists to hit F.W. This time, however, West hit F.W. with a board. Ward observed a knot on F.W.'s arm and gashes on her leg.

Ward testified West admitted hitting F.W. on the shoulder "to get [F.W.] to shut up." When F.W. continued talking, West picked up a board and swung it. West acknowledged she may have hit F.W. with the board. West showed Ward the board, which was 24 inches long and four inches wide and had two metal brackets protruding from it.

William Gordon, who is also a child welfare specialist, testified regarding his involvement with the West family. In May 1989, Gordon investigated a report West hit T.W. with a plastic baseball bat, leaving bruises; the report was ultimately indicated. T.W. and F.W. reported West used physical methods of discipline almost daily, and hit them with a variety of objects, including ball bats, broomsticks, extension cords, and rope. F.W. also told Gordon West kept a three-foot-long board in the home and had threatened to throw it at T.W. West acknowledged using the plastic bat to threaten and "tap" the children. She also admitted using a vinyl belt, a broom, a mop, or whatever was handy to discipline the children. West denied this "discipline" constituted abuse. West showed Gordon one of her own childhood scars which occurred as the result of being hit by her mother with an extension cord. She did not believe her mother had abused her. Rather, she believed her mother was merely trying to teach her what was right.

F.W. testified in camera. F.W. testified West generally disciplined her with an open hand, and had not recently hit her with objects. F.W. explained she lied earlier when she said West hit her with the board. She fabricated the story because she wanted to stay at a crisis center for a couple days. On cross-examination, F.W. acknowledged in the weeks immediately prior to the hearing, her relationship with West had improved and West had been buying "nice things" for her.

At the close of the hearing, the guardian ad litem (GAL) stated he believed it was clear C.W. was without a legal guardian and, therefore, a dependent minor. The GAL also stated the State had proved the existence of an injurious environment. The guardian stated "I think [West] was raised this way and she has no concept of the idea it's wrong to physically hit children to keep them in line." The GAL did not believe this had been an isolated incident, and did not believe West would participate in services necessary to rectify the situation, unless ordered to do so. The GAL noted F.W.'s changed story and stated he believed F.W. was afraid and was trying to keep her family together and is "willing to endure whatever comes along in order to do that." West's attorney argued the case involved only a permissible exercise of corporal punishment.

The court noted it was frightening West did not believe her parents had improperly disciplined her when they hit her with an extension cord causing scars which are still visible. With respect to F.W.'s testimony, the court stated "I have to believe that either [F.W.] lied then or she lied under oath today. Either way, I can't really say her testimony is adequate to establish anything by a preponderance." The court noted West admitted brandishing and swinging the board while threatening F.W., and stated this conduct had to be viewed in context of the "times in this family when objects were used to discipline children." Finally, the court expressed its concern regarding the lessons West taught her children through her methods of "discipline." The court noted such conduct:

"teaches the child a very, very dangerous thing. After all, if it's okay for my mother to pick up a piece of a bed frame from time to time and wave it around my head and threaten to hit me with it, then why isn't it alright when I'm out on the street or I'm at school and somebody gets in my face, to pick up the nearest object and threaten them with it? What's the difference? * * * The problem is, she does it to somebody else and they call it Aggravated Assault, ...

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