The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County
Honorable Sharon Coleman & Paul P. Biebel, Judges Presiding.
The State filed petitions to adjudicate minors April C., Amy C., and Anna C. wards of the court. The circuit court found the minors were abused pursuant to the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 1998)) due to physical abuse and excessive corporal punishment by their father, Ernie C., and due to a substantial risk of physical injury. A dispositional hearing was held and parents respondent Kathleen C. and Ernie C. were found to be unwilling, unable, and unfit to parent the minors, who were then adjudicated wards of the court. Respondent now appeals both the adjudication of abuse and adjudication of wardship. *fn1
On June 13, 1997, the State filed petitions for the adjudication of wardship regarding respondents 11-year-old April C., 8-year-old Amy C., and 6-year-old Anna C. (collectively, the children or the minors), who had all been taken into custody two days earlier. The petitions alleged that Anna and Amy had been subjected to physical abuse and excessive corporal punishment and were at substantial risk of physical injury. The petition for April alleged that she was at substantial risk of physical injury. A case management conference order dated August 27, 1997, indicates that the parties were granted leave to amend the petition regarding April to add allegations of physical abuse and excessive corporal punishment.
On October 1, 1997, an adjudication hearing was held before Judge Sharon Coleman. At the hearing, the evidence consisted of a stipulation entered into by the parties. Respondent and Ernie C. were represented by different counsel. According to the stipulation:
1. Respondent and Ernie C. were the natural parents of April, Amy, and Anna;
2. Respondent and Ernie C. were custodial at all relevant times;
3. Since September 1996, respondent and Ernie C. had also had custody of Ernie C.'s stepdaughter's children Jacoba, Angelica, and Guandensio *fn2 ;
4. While in the custody of respondent and Ernie C., Jacoba sustained a fractured transverse left femur;
5. Ernie C. admitted to forcefully holding Jacoba down on the toilet seat in an effort to potty train;
6. Respondent and Ernie C. stated to doctors and nurses at Children's Memorial Hospital that an explanation for the injury could have been that Jacoba fell down a flight of stairs or fell off a toy;
7. If called to testify, Dr. Marianne Radkowski of Children's Memorial Hospital would state that the injury to Jacoba could have occurred during toilet-training if Ernie C. placed his hands on the child's thigh and used an extreme amount of force to push the child on the toilet seat. Dr. Radkowski would further testify that the type of fracture sustained by the child would not occur from falling down the stairs or falling off a toy. Dr. Radkowski would also state that a bone scan was completed and that this was an instance of abuse;
8. A bone scan completed at Children's Memorial Hospital revealed that Jacoba also had healed fractures to his right radius and ulna;
9. Based on Jacoba's healed fractures, fractured left femur, and lack of a plausible explanation by respondent and Ernie C., the multidisciplinary team at Children's Memorial Hospital ruled that the findings were consistent with physical abuse;
10. If called to testify, Susan Garner, a social worker at the minors' school, would state that (a) there had been a couple of incidents regarding Ernie C. that had caused her concern; (b) in or about May of 1997, Guandensio came to school with a bloody lip; (c) respondent told her Guandensio had bitten his lip when Ernie C. forcefully kept the minor on the toilet; and (d) on or about May 21, 1997, Ernie C. was picking Anna up at school when he was observed grabbing her by the neck;
11. If called to testify, Nicholas Conway would state that while speaking with respondent on June 9, 1997, she told him that Ernie C. had a temper, that she was aware of the neck incident with Anna; and that she had observed Ernie C. holding Guandensio down on the toilet seat, and that it was excessive and was how Guandensio had bitten his lip;
12. April and Amy had made statements that they got whippings from Ernie C. with a belt, board, or a hand when they were in trouble; and
13. The medical records from Mount Sinai for April, Anna, Amy, Guandensio, Angelica, and from Children's Memorial Hospital for Jacoba were entered into evidence.
The parties also stipulated to a finding that April, Amy, and Anna had been physically abused by Ernie C., had been subjected to excessive corporal punishment, and were at substantial risk of injury.
Based on the stipulated evidence, the court found that April, Amy, and Anna were abused in that they had been physically abused by Ernie C., subjected to excessive corporal punishment by Ernie C., and were at substantial risk of physical injury.
A dispositional hearing commenced before Judge Paul Biebel on March 18, 1999. At the time of the hearing, April was 13, Amy was 10, and Anna was 8 years old. At the dispositional hearing, the following evidence was adduced.
Julie Dvorsky, a licensed clinical social worker with a master's degree in social work, testified that she was employed by Hephzibah Children's Association and had been assigned to work with the C. family since August 21, 1997. The case first came into the system when Ernie C.'s grandchild Jacoba was found with a bone fracture. Several older healed fractures were discovered on Jacoba as well. During a home visit in August 1997, Ernie C. explained to Dvorsky that he was trying to keep Jacoba on a toilet-training seat and heard a crack while pushing down on him.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) referred the family to receive psychological examinations and a bonding assessment in September 1997. Following the psychological assessment, it was recommended that respondent get individual psychotherapy and couples or marital counseling, continue working toward her GED, and join a women's support group. The assessment noted that respondent was capable of good parenting but was not capable at the present time of modifying her husband's behavior. It was recommended that Ernie C. get individual psychotherapy, vocational training, a bonding assessment, and a neurological evaluation to rule out narcolepsy.
The September 1997 bonding assessment recommended that the children not return home due to the psychological issues affecting each parent. The assessment noted an apparent lack of emotional "connectedness" between respondent, Ernie C., and the children. The assessment contained statements made by all three children to the effect that they missed their parents and wanted to return home and noted that the children were respectful of their parents and well-behaved. The assessment described respondent and Ernie C.'s relationship with each other as being of particular concern due to suspected past physical abuse of respondent by Ernie C. and noted that respondent "seemed incapable at the present time [of] modifying her husband's behavior." The assessment did describe respondent, however, as being able to acquire additional parenting skills that may help her in the future to better parent her children. Dvorsky testified that respondent had been cooperative with the services, including the bonding assessment.
Through DCFS, both parents were referred to Mary and Tom Leo and Associates for individual counseling. The issues addressed in therapy included anger management and corporal punishment. Initial reports from the therapist were promising, especially regarding respondent. Dvorsky acknowledged that a January 6, 1998, report by a counselor at Mary and Tom Leo and Associates stated that respondent's bond with her daughters should be further evaluated and visited and that respondent appeared to be the more capable parent and the parent that would need to protect the children. That same report indicated that although respondent's descriptions of her children contained "little sense of delight, warmth, or pain at their removal," she may actually care for the children deeply. Dvorsky acknowledged that up until June 1998, the reports from Mary and Tom Leo and Associates expressed hope that respondent and Ernie C. would make significant progress in therapy. Dvorsky testified that the hoped-for progress had not occurred. A June 1998 report from Mary and Tom Leo and Associates stated that many of the sessions with respondent and Ernie C. had been struggles and that both respondent and Ernie C. seemed to believe that with the exception of Leroy Yates, a counselor the parents had sought out on their own, all of the professionals involved in the case were part of a conspiracy to prevent reunification with the children. At the time of the hearing, respondent and Ernie C. were still participating in individual psychotherapy sessions on a monthly basis. The therapists felt the family needed to be involved in family therapy in order to make any further progress.
According to Dvorsky, family therapy was attempted twice. It was first attempted in October 1997, but was discontinued after one month because the therapist felt no progress was being made and that the parents needed to focus on their own individual psychological issues in that they were coming into the family sessions angry and were not focusing on the goals established in therapy. The therapist told Dvorsky the children were "frozen" during the sessions and unable to speak. The therapist also stated that this was one of the "most concerning" families he had seen.
Family therapy was attempted again in June 1998. The sessions, which included just the children and respondent, were again discontinued after a month because the therapist found respondent to be "inappropriate." As an example, Dvorsky related that respondent had walked out of the session while Anna was relating information on a life issue to respondent. When she reentered the session, the girls "completely shut down." The children refused to bring forth issues to their mother out of fear she would tell Ernie C., and April threatened to run away rather than attend family therapy ...