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People v. Schaeffer

November 22, 2000

IN RE: D.S. AND D.S., MINORS,
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
MIKE SCHAEFFER AND PAULA SCHAEFFER, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 99JA62 Honorable James E. Souk, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McCULLOUGH

On May 4, 2000, the circuit court of McLean County entered a permanency order, pursuant to section 2-28 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-28 (West Supp. 1999)), finding, as to the prior six-month plan and services, the permanency goal for minors D.S. and D.S. of return home within 12 months had not been achieved; respondent parents had not made reasonable efforts to achieve the goal; the trial court found the appropriate permanency goal to be return home within 12 months; respondent parents had not made substantial progress toward the return home of the minors; and respondent parents remain unfit. Respondent father, Mike Schaeffer, and respondent mother, Paula Schaeffer, appeal, arguing that the trial court's findings were contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. We agree.

Because the parties are familiar with the evidence, we discuss it only to the extent necessary to put respondent parents' arguments in context. Respondents are the father and mother of two children, twin boys, D.S. and D.S., born February 12, 1996. On April 19, 1999, respondent parents took D.S. to the emergency room of BroMenn Hospital. Dr. Joseph Novotny, an orthopedic surgeon, diagnosed D.S. with a spiral, oblique fracture of his thigh bone, a long fracture that suggested torsional-type injury to the thigh. Respondent parents offered that respondent father was doing some remodeling work in their home. Respondent father was installing a new door and had laid the door against a wall. The children were told not to play near the door. The door fell on top of D.S.

Dr. Novotny felt it appropriate that the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigate for possible child abuse because the alleged mechanism of injury, a falling door, did not match the fracture pattern.

On April 28, 1999, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship alleging that (1) respondent parents had abused the children because they caused to be inflicted, or allowed to be inflicted, upon D.S., a spiral fracture to his leg (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i) (West 1998)); (2) respondent parents had abused the children because they created a substantial risk of injury to the minors when D.S. sustained a spiral fracture to his leg (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(ii) (West 1998)); and (3) respondent parents had neglected the children because the family resided in an environment injurious to the children's welfare (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1998)). The trial court entered an order for shelter care, finding "a matter of immediate and urgent necessity."

On July 15, 1999, the trial court adjudicated D.S., and his twin brother, D.S., abused and neglected minors.

On November 30, 1999, the trial court entered a dispositional order adjudicating D.S. and D.S. wards of the court and appointing DCFS as their guardian. The trial court found a permanency goal of return home within 12 months appropriate and noted "the services in place are appropriate and necessary to effectuate the goal."

On December 13, 1999, respondent parents filed a notice of appeal. Respondent parents argued, in part, that the trial court's finding of abuse was against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the trial court erred in finding respondent parents unfit and entering a permanency goal of return home within 12 months.

This court held that the trial court's findings were not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. In re D.S., No. 4-99-1012, slip order at 6 (June 23, 2000) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). "'A finding of the trial court is *** against the manifest weight of the evidence only if a review of the record "clearly demonstrates" the opposite result was the proper one.'" In re M.D.H., 297 Ill. App. 3d 181, 190, 697 N.E.2d 417, 423 (1998), quoting In re Z.R., 274 Ill. App. 3d 422, 427, 654 N.E.2d 255, 258-59 (1995), quoting In re T.B., 215 Ill. App. 3d 1059, 1062, 574 N.E.2d 893, 896 (1991).

Pursuant to its order of November 30, 1999, the trial court held a permanency hearing on May 4, 2000. Catholic Social Service (CSS) provided the sole evidence, a permanency report filed on May 1, 2000. Although the permanency report recommended a permanency goal of return home within 12 months and that respondent parents remain unfit, DCFS acknowledged the sole basis for the recommendation that respondent parents remain unfit was that respondent parents failed to admit that one parent, or both, abused D.S.

The report identified an initial goal, as to respondent father, that he "will receive and participate in counseling to address parenting issues and taking responsibility for his children being in substitute care." Respondent father was discharged from counseling by CSS therapist Mike McMeen on December 20, 1999. Respondent father "satisfactorily addressed any issues in counseling including those listed in the client service plan and issues brought forth by Mr. Schaeffer himself as needed." Respondent father continued to maintain that he did not deliberately cause his son's injury. He examined the incident repeatedly in counseling and insisted that he had offered every detail he could recall. The report notes that respondent father "was always willing to explore the incident." He did accept responsibility for creating an injurious environment for his children and that, upon his son's injury, he and his wife first put the children into their pajamas before leaving for the hospital.

The report identified a second goal, as to respondent father, that he "agrees to attend parenting classes and demonstrate what he has learned during family visits." Respondent father successfully completed "Nurturing Parenting" classes. He voluntarily completed American Red Cross first aid, and child, infant, and adult CPR classes. Respondent father is always nurturing and caring toward his children. He attends every meeting, conference, and medical appointment with his children whenever possible. Respondent father continues to strengthen his parenting skills and knowledge by voluntarily seeking out educational opportunities.

As to respondent mother, the initial goal noted was "Paula Schaeffer agrees to attend parenting classes and demonstrate what she has learned during family visits." Respondent mother successfully completed "Nurturing Parenting" classes. She also voluntarily completed American Red Cross first aid, and child, infant, and adult CPR classes. The report notes that respondent mother has demonstrated learned parenting skills during visits with her children. She has always been very nurturing and loving toward her children. She appears to have a very clear understanding of her children's needs and attends every meeting, conference, and medical appointment with her children.

The report identified a second goal as to respondent mother, that she "will receive and participate in counseling to address parenting issues and taking responsibility for her children being in substitute care." Respondent mother was discharged from counseling by CSS therapist Michelle Murphy on January 11, 2000. Respondent mother "satisfactorily addressed all of the issues in her client service plan goal." Respondent mother maintained that her son's injury was accidental and she accepts responsibility for deciding to put her son's pajamas on before taking him to the hospital. Respondent mother strongly stated her love for her children in counseling and her desire to be a family again. She was always cooperative and willing to address any issue.

As to respondent parents, the report identified a single goal, that "Michael and Paula Schaeffer agree to provide a structurally safe and protective living residence for their sons' return home." Respondent parents have continued to reside in their new home for the past 10 months. The report notes that ...


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