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In re Jerome F.

May 21, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Child Protection Division; No. 98 JA 04092, No. 98 JA 04093, No. 98 JA 04094, No. 98 JA 04095. The Honorable Eddie Stephens, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cohen.


Modified September 10, 2001


The State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship of the respondent mother's four children. The petition alleged that the respondent had abused the children by creating a substantial risk of physical injury to them through other than accidental means and that the respondent had neglected them, primarily due to her use of cocaine. One child allegedly was born with cocaine in his system.

An adjudicatory hearing was held at which the respondent was not present. At the close of the hearing, the juvenile court found the allegations of abuse and neglect proven. A dispositional hearing followed immediately. The court adjudged the children wards of the court, finding the respondent unable, unwilling and unfit to care for her children at that time.

The respondent argues that these determinations must be reversed and new hearings held because she did not receive proper notice. The respondent also argues that the finding of neglect should be reversed because the evidence indicated that it was a child other than the one alleged in the petition who may have been born with cocaine in his system. She further argues that the court's finding that she abused her children was manifestly erroneous, because the finding was based on an incident that all the evidence indicated was an accident. We affirm.

1. Background

The respondent is the mother or four children: Genesis, Jerome, Prentiss and Danita. The respondent's family came to the attention of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) by way of a hotline call after Genesis was taken to Mercy Hospital with a burn on her face. At the time, Genesis was 7, Jerome was 5, Prentiss was 3 and Danita was 10 months old. On December 2, 1998, Kimberly Davis, a DCFS worker, went to talk with the respondent and check on the children. Davis saw a burn mark on Genesis' cheek and one on Jerome's chest. Davis asked the respondent about the burns. She told Davis that Jerome had been playing with the iron and that Genesis went over to take the iron away from him and put it away; however, Genesis dropped the iron causing burns to herself and Jerome.

Davis asked Genesis how the burn occurred, and Genesis gave the same account -- "that her little brother was ironing. She took the iron away from him. She wrapped the cord around the iron and the iron fell and hit against her face." Davis then spoke with Jerome, who also said that the burns occurred when Genesis accidentally dropped the iron. The children said that their mother was there when the accident happened. Davis did not see other signs of abuse or neglect on the children, although there had once been an allegation that the respondent had hit one of the children with a hangar.

Davis testified that the children seemed "very bonded" with the respondent, and that she seemed to care about the children. However, Davis related, when the respondent learned that DCFS was taking temporary custody, the respondent said "she was kind of glad that they were taking custody because she need[ed] to get herself together."

Angela Holman, a worker at Chicago Commons, had referred the respondent to drug treatment programs on multiple occasions. The respondent had completed only one of the referrals. On December 4, 1998, Holman spoke with the respondent about the respondent's drug problem. The respondent admitted that she was still using cocaine, explaining that it was hard to kick the habit. Holman knew that Prentiss had been born with cocaine in his system. Holman informed the respondent that she had failed drug tests in her treatment program. The State introduced records from the respondent's treatment program at the adjudicatory hearing.

Holman said that when she went to the respondent's house it was usually filthy. The couch was infested with bugs and sometimes had food on it. The floors were sticky. The dishes were piled up. Sometimes one of the children would drop food on the dirty floor then pick it up and eat it. The respondent said that she had trouble doing housework because of a foot problem. Despite the deficiencies in the children's environment, Holman never made a call to the child abuse hotline because the respondent had a brother named Larry who would come over from time to time and assist with the housework and care of the children. The children seemed to have a good relationship with the mother.

Tamika Nash was a worker from Chicago Commons who took over the case from Ms. Holman in February 1999. She gave the respondent another referral for a drug treatment program, but the respondent did not show up. The respondent said that she had forgotten, but Nash told the court that she wrote the date down for the respondent and later sent her a reminder letter. The respondent was supposed to come in to Chicago Commons for another referral, but never did. Once again, the respondent said that she forgot. Nash had also recommended that the respondent take a parenting class. The respondent did not do so.

Nash talked with the children's father, who at the time was incarcerated. He said that he would see if there were any parenting classes offered in prison. At the hearing, the father testified that he had enrolled in a drug treatment program in prison and was signed up to take a parenting class soon.

The State introduced records from Michael Reese Hospital relating to the birth of Prentiss. According to the records, there was cocaine from the mother affecting the newborn. The records indicated that a call had been ...

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