The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Paul P. Biebel, Judge 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, respondent Ernie C., and due to a substantial risk of physical injury. A dispositional hearing was held and parents Kathleen C. and respondent 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, maintaining that the trial court erred in finding him unable, unwilling, and unfit to parent the minors and erred in allowing certain testimony at the dispositional hearing. *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. At the hearing, the evidence consisted of a stipulation entered into by the parties. Respondent and Kathleen C. were represented by different counsel. According to the stipulation:
1. Respondent and Kathleen C. were the natural parents of April, Amy, and Anna;
2. Respondent and Kathleen C. were custodial at all relevant times;
3. Since September 1996, respondent and Kathleen C. had also had custody of respondent's stepdaughter's children Jacoba, Angelica, and Guandensio *fn2 ;
4. While in the custody of respondent and Kathleen C., Jacoba sustained a fractured transverse left femur;
5. Respondent admitted to forcefully holding Jacoba down on the toilet seat in an effort to potty train;
6. Respondent and Kathleen 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 respondent 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 Kathleen 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 respondent that had caused her concern; (b) in or about May of 1997, Guandensio came to school with a bloody lip; (c) Kathleen C. told her Guandensio had bitten his lip when respondent forcefully kept the minor on the toilet; and (d) on or about May 21, 1997, respondent 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 Kathleen C. on June 9, 1997, she told him that respondent had a temper, that she was aware of the neck incident with Anna; and that she had observed respondent 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 respondent 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, and 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 respondent, 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 respondent, subjected to excessive corporal punishment by respondent, and were at substantial risk of physical injury.
A dispositional hearing commenced 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 respondent'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, respondent 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, vocational training, a bonding assessment, and a neurological evaluation to rule out narcolepsy. It was recommended that Kathleen C. get individual psychotherapy, couples or marital counseling, continue working toward her GED, and join a women's support group.
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, Kathleen 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 Kathleen C.'s relationship with each other as being of particular concern due to suspected ...