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In re L.F.

July 19, 1999


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois No. 97--JA--98 Honorable Michael E. Brandt Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater


On August 20, 1997, the minors, L.F., R.F., P.F., L.D.F. and I.F., were adjudicated neglected based on the death of D.M., a foster child of the respondent-mother, Loreaca F. 705 ILCS 405/2--3(b) (West 1996). All of the minors are the respondent's biological children except I.F., who was also a foster child. *fn1 After a shelter care hearing, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was given temporary custody of the biological children, and I.F. was given to a child placement organization. At the second permanency review hearing, the trial court changed the permanency goal from "return home" to "substitute care pending termination of parental rights." In this appeal, the respondent argues that: (1) the trial court violated her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination when it changed the permanency goal because she would not admit that she was responsible for the death of D.M.; and (2) the trial court's finding that she did not make reasonable efforts was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We agree that the respondent's fifth amendment right against self-incrimination was violated, and we therefore reverse this case and remand for further proceedings.

At the adjudication hearing, Cheryl Moore, a DCFS investigator, testified that on June 13, 1997, she went to the respondent's home to remove the minors after D.M. had died. As Moore was leaving with the children, the respondent said to them, "don't tell them anything."

Dr. Ken Frazer, a neuroradiologist, testified that he examined D.M. after his death. According to Frazer, D.M. had blood in his brain and a severe brain injury. He opined that D.M. had a subarachnoid hemorrhage and a subdural hematoma. He explained that these findings indicated that D.M.'s injuries were caused by blunt force to the head and the injuries were similar to those seen in "shaking-type" acceleration/deceleration injuries of the head. He also said that D.M.'s injury did not occur from a fall.

Dr. Robert Cruse, a pediatric neurologist, testified that D.M. suffered from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, hemorrhages in the back of the eyes, and increased inter-cranial pressure. Dr. Cruse believed that the injuries were those of a shaken child.

Detective Willie King testified that he interviewed seven-year-old L.F. about the events leading up to D.M.'s death. L.F. told King that on the day D.M. died, he had seen D.M. get a "whupping" and be shaken by his mother because D.M. had "pooped" on himself. He said that the "whupping" occurred upstairs in their home with a belt.

King also testified that he interviewed eight-year-old L.D.F., and that child told him that D.M. said "mom slapped me" on the day he died. L.D.F. told King that D.M. had a bowel movement in the car on the day he died and D.M. was told that he was going to get a "whupping" when he got home. L.D.F. said that when D.M. got home, he was bathed, cleaned up, dressed, and given a "whupping."

King said he talked to six-year-old R.F. and R.F. told him that D.M. got a "whupping" because he "pooped" on himself.

At the Conclusion of the State's case, the respondent did not call any witnesses. The court found that D.M. was subject to excessive corporal punishment and that he had died at the hands of the respondent. Additionally, the court found that D.M. had no less than 22 separate incidents of scarring on his body. The court ruled that the respondent was unfit and set the case for Disposition.

A Disposition hearing report was submitted to the court on September 16, 1997. The report reflects that the minors said they would receive corporal punishment by the hand and belt. The court ordered the respondent to successfully complete parenting class, psychological evaluations, and all recommended treatment, including counseling. The respondent was also ordered to not have any unsupervised contact with the minors.

Dr. Joel Eckert conducted a psychological evaluation of the respondent on November 13, 1997. The respondent told Dr. Eckert that she was referred for this assessment because "the prosecution for the State said there was some shaking of the baby--they said they took some tests--and so they took my kids away." Tests performed on the respondent showed a high level of maladjustment. Dr. Eckert opined that the respondent probably engages in such behavior as lying, cheating, stealing and fighting.

Dr. Eckert also performed a child abuse potential inventory test on the respondent. The tests showed that the summary of abuse scale fell within normal limits. However, Dr. Eckert recommended that until specific circumstances of the child's death are made clear, no children be returned to the respondent.

On December 30, 1997, DCFS submitted a client service plan to the court. The plan indicated that the respondent's progress toward a permanency goal of "return home" was unsatisfactory due to her failure to address and resolve the death of D.M. The service plan indicated that the respondent participated in ...

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