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In re C.W.

March 21, 2002


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


Following an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court of Cook County found that respondent, Rosanna W., was an unfit parent under section 1(D)(g) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(g) (West 1998)), because she failed to protect her daughter, C.W., and her son, D.D., from conditions in their environment injurious to their welfare. The circuit court subsequently terminated respondent's parental rights to C.W. and D.D., and respondent appealed. The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. No. 1-99-1843 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). We granted respondent's petition for leave to appeal. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


On April 30,1996, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) took protective custody of C.W. (born July 17, 1985) and her half-brother, D.D. (born July 26, 1991). *fn1 DCFS took protective custody after it received a hotline call from Carol Olsen, a social worker at C.W.'s school. Olsen had observed bruises on the inside of C.W.'s legs, a possible burn mark on her leg, and fresh bruises on both arms.

On May 2, 1996, the State filed petitions for adjudication of wardship (see 705 ILCS 405/2-13 (West 1996)), alleging that the minors were neglected in that their environment was injurious to their welfare (see 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1996)), and that the minors had been abused (see 705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i), (2)(ii) (West 1996)). At the hearing on the State's petitions, the parties stipulated that Olsen would testify regarding her observations of the bruises on C.W. The parties further stipulated that Olsen would testify that the bruises did not occur at C.W.'s school. The trial court found that C.W. was abused in that excessive corporal punishment was administered by an unknown parent, guardian or legal custodian (see 705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(v) (West 1996)), and that D.D. was neglected in that his environment was injurious to his welfare (see 705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 1996)). At the subsequent dispositional hearing held on January 14, 1997, the trial court adjudged C.W. and D.D. wards of the court and placed guardianship in DCFS. See 705 ILCS 405/2-22, 2-27 (West 1996).

On May 20, 1998, approximately two years after C.W. and D.D. were taken into protective custody, the State filed, as to each minor, a petition for appointment of a guardian with right to consent to adoption (see 705 ILCS 405/2-29 (West 1998)), commonly referred to as a petition to terminate parental rights. The State alleged, in relevant part, that respondent was unfit in that she failed to protect the children from conditions in their environment injurious to their welfare (see 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(g) (West 1998)), and failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for the removal of the children and/or failed to make reasonable progress toward their return within nine months after the adjudication of neglect or abuse (see 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(m) (West 1998)).

In April 1999, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the State's petitions to terminate parental rights. Testimony and documentary evidence introduced at the fitness portion of the hearing revealed that C.W. had been hospitalized once in 1992, and twice in 1994, with elevated levels of lead in her system. Between 1992 and 1994, she also underwent multiple surgeries to remove foreign bodies she had placed in her ear. C.W. was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (autism) and moderate mental retardation, and was described as trainably mentally handicapped. Beginning in 1992, C.W. attended a school for exceptional children. Mary Gilmore, C.W.'s teacher for four years beginning with the 1993-94 school year, testified that C.W. was frequently absent. Gilmore noticed that C.W.'s clothes were sometimes dirty, and that she sometimes smelled of urine, requiring Gilmore to bathe C.W. at the school once or twice per week. In April 1996, Gilmore noticed bruises and marks on C.W.'s legs and arms and spoke with Carol Olsen, the school social worker. Olsen examined C.W., but C.W.'s mental handicap prevented Olsen from discussing the bruises with her. Olsen placed a call to the DCFS hotline. This was the tenth hotline call received by DCFS over an eight-year period concerning respondent's children. At least five of these calls resulted in the issuance of "indicated reports," *fn2 based on evidence of physical abuse, environmental neglect, inadequate shelter, or medical neglect.

Bridget Broadway, a DCFS investigator, first met C.W. and D.D. on April 30, 1996, five days after Olsen's hotline call was received by DCFS. Broadway attempted to interview C.W. at school, but C.W. was nonverbal. Broadway observed fresh bruises on C.W.'s legs and buttocks and evidence of old bruises. In response to Broadway's questions, D.D. indicated that he chased C.W. with sticks, and that he had been "whooped" by "Robert." Broadway also interviewed respondent, who offered different explanations for C.W.'s bruises. Respondent stated that the school was responsible, and that her other children had chased C.W. with a hanger.

Broadway immediately took C.W. and D.D. into protective custody. Although Broadway did not observe bruises on D.D. at that time, an examination by Dr. Poornima Narayen on the following day revealed old marks on his left buttocks, some linear marks on his back, one loop mark on his left thigh, and an old burn mark on his left hand. D.D. told Dr. Narayen that respondent "whooped" him with an extension cord. Following additional hospital evaluation, D.D. was diagnosed with lead poisoning and adjustment disorder with anxiety.

C.W. remained in a DCFS emergency shelter until July 1996, at which time she was placed in a foster home through a program at Uhlich Children's Home (Uhlich). D.D. was placed in a foster home in May 1996, and three months later, was placed in another foster home through the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago (YMCA).

Kathy Grzelak, a caseworker at Uhlich, was assigned the case in July 1996. At that time, an initial client service plan, drafted in May 1996, was already in place. Under that plan, respondent was required to attend parenting classes and participate in counseling to address the issue of stress in child rearing. Respondent completed a parenting class in August 1996, and that same month, began counseling with Janet Dahm at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. In December 1996, Cynthia Michel, the primary caseworker for the family at the YMCA, rated respondent's progress under the initial service plan satisfactory.

Grzelak and Michel drafted the next client service plan in December 1996. Under this plan, respondent was required to continue with therapy, complete a bonding assessment, and engage in domestic violence counseling. Respondent completed the bonding assessment in February 1997. The psychologist who conducted the bonding assessment noted in his report that C.W. presented a "very demanding challenge" in light of her autism, and that D.D. could be a "very demanding child to work with," in light of indications that he may be suffering from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The report also stated that providing parenting for respondent's children would present a "most difficult task for the best and most qualified and patient parent."

Michel testified that the decision to include domestic violence counseling in the December 1996 service plan was based on a number of factors: (1) respondent's varying explanations for a black eye she received over the 1996 Thanksgiving holiday; (2) respondent's complaint of a back injury at work, which Michel had reason to believe did not occur on the job; and (3) respondent's history of domestic violence, as reflected in the case file. Although respondent told caseworkers that she had been attending domestic violence counseling at Sarah's Inn since February 1997, when the referral was first made, it was later learned that respondent did not begin counseling until May 1997. Respondent had rescheduled visits with her children to accommodate counseling sessions that she was not attending. Respondent received an unsatisfactory rating under the December 1996 service plan.

The third client service plan was drafted in June 1997 and included Alvin, respondent's then live-in paramour. Respondent and Alvin began a relationship in 1994 or 1995, and began cohabiting in May 1996. Grzelak testified that the suspicion of domestic violence necessitated Alvin's participation in services if the children were to be returned to respondent. Grzelak's attempts to involve Alvin in services were unsuccessful. Records indicate, however, that he completed a parenting class in May 1998, just as Grzelak's involvement with the case ended. Grzelak testified that although respondent denied that Alvin was physically abusive, Grzelak became aware of a domestic battery allegation against Alvin, dating back to October 1997. Grzelak rated respondent's progress under the June 1997 service plan unsatisfactory, noting in her written report that respondent had not provided documentation to support her claim that she had followed through with recommended services.

During Michel's involvement with the case, which ended in August 1997, she observed visits between respondent, D.D. and B.W. At times, C.W. was also present. According to Michel, visits began well, but during the course of the hour, respondent's interaction with her children diminished and respondent would speak with Michel about events in respondent's life not pertinent to the children. Michel indicated that respondent was a loving parent, but not a capable parent. In the spring of 1997, based on Michel's own observations and the recommendation of respondent's counselor, Janet Dahm, Michel referred respondent for additional parenting classes. ...

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