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People v. Cooper

February 20, 2001

IN RE T.J., K.J. AND I.J., MINORS MINOR-RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES
(THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE
v.
WANDA COOPER, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Juvenile Division 93 J 1182; 93 J 1183; 93 J 1184; The Honorable Donna J. Cervini, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cohen

The State petitioned the circuit court to find the respondent an unfit parent, terminate her parental rights and appoint a guardian with the power to consent to adoption of her three minor children.

The State moved for a summary determination as to the respondent's unfitness on the grounds that she was unable to discharge parental responsibilities due to mental illness. The juvenile court judge granted the State's motion and, after a best interests hearing, the judge terminated the respondent's parental rights and appointed a guardian.

The respondent now appeals the summary finding of unfitness.

BACKGROUND

This case concerns three children of Wanda Cooper: I.J., born September 23, 1990; K.J., born November 25, 1989; and T.J., born December 26, 1988. The biological father of I.J., K.J. and T.J. is Ms. Cooper's previous husband, DeAngelo. Ms. Cooper is now married to David Cooper and has lived with him for several years. Mr. Cooper's two daughters also live with the Cooper family.

In 1993, the State filed petitions for adjudication of wardship and motions for temporary custody of I.J., K.J. and T.J.. The petitions alleged that I.J. had been physically abused and that K.J. and T.J. were at substantial risk of physical injury. The children were taken into protective custody on March 18, 1993, after I.J. was found with a black eye. After a hearing on April 6, 1993, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) was awarded temporary custody.

DCFS compiled a client service plan with Ms. Cooper. The plan indicated that Ms. Cooper had been diagnosed with a mental illness that required professional treatment. DCFS referred Ms. Cooper for psychological evaluation and treatment at an outpatient clinic.

On September 22, 1994, the children were found to be abused pursuant to the petitions for adjudication of wardship. On February 28, 1995, Dr. Arthur Price, the psychiatrist to whom Ms. Cooper had been referred, submitted his evaluation to the court. The court entered disposition orders whereby Ms. Cooper lost custody of the children. The court then entered an order that Ms. Cooper submit to a forensic clinical services psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist who conducted the evaluation was Dr. James Corcoran.

On February 8, 1996, the juvenile court ordered Ms. Cooper to be referred for an assessment by the parental assessment team at the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital. On March 20, 1996, the court entered an order changing the permanency goal for the children from long-term foster care to adoption. On August 6, 1997, the parental assessment team filed its report. A week later the State filed a petition for appointment of a guardian with right to consent to adoption. The petition alleged that Ms. Cooper was an unfit parent under, inter alia, section 1(D)(p) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 1998)). This section of the Adoption Act classifies a parent as unfit if there is a finding of an "[i]nability to discharge parental responsibilities supported by competent evidence from a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist of *** mental illness *** and there is sufficient justification to believe that the inability to discharge parental responsibilities shall extend beyond a reasonable time period." 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(p) (West 1998).

On November 5, 1998, the State filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether Ms. Cooper was unfit due to mental illness. Attached to the motion were the parental assessment team report and an update. Attached to Ms. Cooper's response were an affidavit from her husband and the forensic clinical services evaluation by Dr. Corcoran.

The parental assessment team report had three parts: an evaluation of Ms. Cooper by a psychiatrist, a report on both the parents and the children by child psychologists and a report on the home environment by a child development specialist. The questions that DCFS presented to the parenting assessment team were as follows:

"1. [Ms. Cooper] appears to have been compliant with all services. How much has she been able to internalize?

2. Considering [K.J.]'s special needs, how effective would Ms. Cooper be at disciplining and setting limits?

3. Ms. Cooper often avoids interacting with [I.J.]. What kind of a bond do Ms. Cooper and [I.J.] have?

4. How reliable and stable is Ms. Cooper's support system?"

The examination by Dr. Miller took place on June 16, 1997. Ms. Cooper behaved ...


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