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In re J.J.

December 24, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McBRIDE


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Richard A. Stevens, Judge Presiding

Following a hearing on a petition by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to appoint a guardian of the person of the minors and its motion to vacate DCFS' guardianships, terminate wardships and close the minors' cases, the trial court granted the petition and the motion, finding that the best interests of J.J. and T.R. would be served by private guardianships with their maternal aunt. Respondent L.W., the children's mother, contends that the court's determination was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

The evidence in the record shows that J.J. was born on May 4, 1989, and T.R. was born on November 17, 1995. On March 19, 1997, petitions for adjudication of wardship were filed alleging that they were neglected based on their injurious environment and that T.R. was additionally neglected due to lack of care. At a temporary custody hearing held the following day, the evidence established that on March 14, 1997, T.R. swallowed several prescription antidepressant pills and became comatose. L.W. attempted to treat T.R. with a spoonful of castor oil and then put her to bed with a bottle of milk. She did not call an ambulance until three hours later when T.R. had difficulty breathing. T.R. remained in a coma for 22 days.

The parties stipulated to prior incidents where L.W.'s negligence or passivity caused her children to be injured. On June 28, 1993, J.J. was permanently injured when he shot himself in the face with a handgun found on respondent's living room floor. As a result, J.J. was blinded in one eye, was brain damaged and paralyzed on one side of his body. Previously, on January 8, 1991, another child of L.W., 2½-month-old J.W., died from shaken baby syndrome after being abused by her biological father.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found probable cause to believe that both children were neglected and that it was a matter of urgent and immediate necessity that they be removed from the custody of their parents. DCFS placed the children with their maternal aunt and uncle as foster parents.

A psychological examination of L.W. was ordered at the March 20, 1997 hearing. The examination rated her IQ at 67, placing her at the first percentile as compared to others in her age range. Tests revealed that her verbal, comprehension, perceptual, organizational, fine-motor and visual-motor abilities were deficient. Her academic skills were rated at a low to middle elementary school level. The report concluded:

"[L.W.] should not be assuming primary care of her children, as she does not have the intellectual or personality resources to be an effective caretaker. It is advised that another close family member, relative or friend assume this job. By placing [L.W.] in a position of responsibility and/or authority, the children's safety and well-being remain at risk."

On December 18, 1997, following an adjudicatory hearing, the court found J.J. and T.R. neglected due to lack of care, an injurious environment, and substantial risk of physical injury. Following a dispositional hearing on January 30, 1998, the court found L.W. unable to care for, protect, train or discipline the children, and ordered that the children be made wards of the court, making DCFS guardian with the right to place them.

On May 18, 1998, the court entered a permanency order having the goal of returning the children home pending a status hearing. On April 16, 1999, following a permanency hearing, the court entered a permanency order modifying the goal to private guardianship. In August 1999, DCFS filed motions to vacate the children's guardianships, terminate their wardships and close their cases, and requested subsidized private guardianship for the children with their maternal aunt and uncle. The motions stated that the two children had been living with their aunt and uncle for more than two years and had a strong, mutual attachment to them. The motions also noted that efforts to reunite the children with L.W. had failed because she had not cooperated with the services provided for her.

On December 6, 1999, L.W. filed a motion for the appointment of a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) and for a parenting assessment report.

In a January 1999 report, L.W.'s therapist, Edward Landreth, stated that he had terminated therapy because she "could not grasp the concept of psychotherapy nor productively benefit from it," but instead became defensive and accused DCFS of causing all of her problems. He recommended that the children not be returned to L.W. because she did not accept responsibility for her past inadequate care of the children and had not developed a plan for supervising them in the future.

On January 12, 2000, the court held a hearing on the pending motions, stating that it would first hear the motions filed by DCFS because they had been filed months prior to L.W.'s motion.

Wister Coleman testified that he had been the DCFS caseworker for J.J. and T.R. since the time that they were removed from L.W.'s home in March 1997. In addition to many of the facts already stated above, Coleman testified that although L.W. complied with all the services requested of her by DCFS, she did not meet any of the requirements of the services. He stated that in September 1999, the permanency goal for J.J. and T.R. was changed from returning them to their home to private guardianship because several reports and evaluations of L.W. demonstrated that she did not have the intellectual or personality resources to be an effective caretaker. Coleman believed that respondent had no understanding of child development and was incapable of parenting. After holding a meeting to ...

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