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08/05/94 P.F. AND E.F. v. SANDY F. AND JAMES F.

August 5, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable LaBrenda White, Judge Presiding.

Released for Publication September 13, 1994.

Egan, McNAMARA, Giannis

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Egan

PRESIDING JUSTICE EGAN delivered the opinion of the court:

The trial Judge "permanently" placed two minor children, E.F. and P.F., in foster care with their maternal grandmother, Dana Bolding, and ordered that the minors' parents, Sandy and James F., have visitation once a month. We consolidated James and Sandy's appeals.

In December, 1989, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a report that E.F., born November 24, 1986, and her brother P.F., born July 27, 1988, were being neglected by Sandy and James. A DCFS worker found the family living in an unheated basement, which was accessible only by a step ladder, with no hot water, no cooking facilities, and no food. DCFS filed Petitions for Adjudication of Wardship of E.F. and P.F., alleging that James and Sandy did not give them necessary care and subjected them to an injurious environment.

On December 28, 1989, James and Sandy stipulated "as to probable cause" and agreed to an order of protection. Judge Costa entered an order of protection against James and Sandy, which required them to provide adequate shelter and care for E.F. and P.F. and to attend individual mental health counseling.

On March 22, 1990, Judge Costa conducted a hearing. RandySmith, a DCFS worker, testified that E.F. and P.F. were currently living with James and Sandy in the attic of James's grandmother's house. This attic had no stove, no hot water, and no refrigerator. The children shared a single bare mattress placed on the floor in a room with no light. Smith explained that the children stayed with either their maternal or paternal grandparents for four days each week. Both grandmothers told Smith that the children were filthy when they came from their parents' apartment.

The children's maternal grandmother, Dana Bolding, testified that she would be "glad" to take custody of the children and that she would always "treat them just like they are [her] own." She testified that the children were always wearing dirty diapers and clothes when she picked them up; sometimes "their bottoms [are] bleeding * * * due to the fact that they are not cleaned with water and bath." When Bolding complained to Sandy about the children's diaper rash, Sandy told Bolding, "You are putting too much stuff on their bottoms; you don't do that when you are trying to heal a child." Bolding believed that E.F.'s speech impediment was based in part on the failure of James and Sandy to talk to and encourage E.F. Further, in Bolding's opinion, Sandy and James are too strict with E.F. and P.F.; they "scream" at the children and lock E.F. and P.F. in their room without lights for hours.

At the Conclusion of the hearing, Judge Costa found that James and Sandy violated the order of protection and that the evidence was "sufficient to establish probable cause to believe the truth of the allegations contained in the original petition." He found that appointment of DCFS as temporary custodian was in the best interest of E.F. and P.F. and suggested that DCFS place the children with Bolding. DCFS then placed the children in temporary foster care with Bolding. E.F. and P.F. have been living with Bolding since this March, 1990 placement.

On May 2, 1990, Judge Costa held an adjudicatory hearing. At this hearing, Sandy and James admitted neglect through a failure to provide necessary care. Also, DCFS worker James Balark submitted a court report stating that "both parents voiced minimal interest in employment." They had recently vacated their home, which they admitted had no gas or water, and seemed unconcerned about imminent foreclosure. Balark concluded: "Both parents exhibit dysfunctioning in the ability to cope with those demands inherent in clothing, feeding and attention to their children's social and emotional growth. * * * They are clearly incapable of resuming primary custody of [P.F. and E.F.]"

On October 2, 1990, Judge Brownfield held a Dispositional hearingand determined that the F's were unable to care for their children. He made DCFS the guardian and custodian of E.F. and P.F.

DCFS left the children with Bolding and established a service plan for James and Sandy which listed "return home" as the "permanency goal." DCFS gave Sandy assistance finding and maintaining housing. Nonetheless, in November, 1990, a DCFS caseworker noted, "housing is not the only problem here; parents volunteer for defense station but refuse to take menial [paying] jobs." DCFS also provided counseling to James and Sandy.

Many reports from psychologists and psychiatrists were filed with the court. For example, J.M. Whitman, a psychiatrist, reported that Sandy "absolutely denied that she thought there was any problem whatsoever in [her] and her husband, neither working and with no visible income, bringing up [their] children." Also, when asked why E.F. and P.F. had been removed from her home, Sandy replied: "You tell me--I have NO idea." Whitman reviewed Sandy's prior psychological reports and evaluations, including Sandy's Proviso Family Services therapy notes. In February, 1990, Sandy was "seriously depressed and overwhelmed" and told her Proviso therapist that "it might be better if they just took the kids."

Whitman described James as "unkempt." James showed a clear "underlying hostility" and a "'no care' attitude." James did not show any concern over his failure to earn a regular income and stated that he would "probably not" ever work "a 40 hour week with bull shit work" again. He blamed DCFS for the removal of E.F. and P.F. from his home.

Whitman had difficulty interviewing E.F. because of her "marked speech problem"; E.F. appeared to understand questions well but could not effectively communicate her answers "because of pronunciation problems." Whitman believed that "some of her verbal difficulties may be the result of lack of exposure and lack of teaching in her parents' home." Bolding told Whitman she was enrolling E.F. in speech therapy. Whitman noted that E.F. "is obviously a child very much at risk, and over the years will need much more attention and remedial help, and consistency and security, than she could possibly have in a home with her biological mother and father."

Beginning in March, 1991, Judge White took responsibility for this case. On March 22, 1991, based on DCFS's Conclusion that Sandy and James were making satisfactory progress toward the service plan goal of returning E.F. and P.F. home, Sandy filed a restoration motion requesting vacation of DCFS custody, immediate unsupervised visits, and the return of E.F. and P.F. to James and Sandy. She renewed this motion on May 20, 1991.

On May 29, 1991, Judge White conducted the first of many hearings on this motion. Bolding testified that Sandy and James had visited the children only infrequently. Although DCFS arranged for James and Sandy to have the children all day on Sundays beginning in early April, James and Sandy only took the children on the first two Sundays in April. Bolding stated that Sandy "is ill with [the children]; they aggravate her; she can't tolerate them." Similarly, James did not interact well with the children.

Tom Stabnicki, the family's DCFS caseworker, testified that he had worked with the family since January, 1991. He believed that the only reason the children were removed from Sandy and James was "housing conditions" and that DCFS had always had return home as the goal for E.F. and P.F. Stabnicki had observed three of the parents' visits with the children. James raised his voice with E.F. and P.F., was "not at ease" with the children, and was "somewhat defiant in his contact with them." On the other hand, ...

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