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In Re v. Dorothy H

March 4, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 JA 906 The Honorable Robert Balanoff, Judge Presiding.

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

PRESIDING JUSTICE FITZGERALD SMITH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Howse and Epstein concurred in the judgment and opinion.


Respondent-appellant Dorothy H. (respondent) appeals from orders entered by the trial court in the instant cause adjudging minor respondent-appellee William H. (William or minor) a ward of the court and holding that reasonable efforts had been made to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the minor from the home. She contends on appeal that the trial court erred in both these findings; she asks that we reverse the court's order adjudging the minor a ward of the court and that we remand the cause for a new hearing. The State and the minor's public guardian have filed appellees' briefs. For the following reasons, we affirm.


William was born on August 7, 2002, to respondent (his biological mother) and Mr. S. (his biological father).*fn1 Prior to the instant cause, respondent and Mr. S. were involved in proceedings before Judge Grace Dickler in the domestic relations division of the Cook County circuit court. William had not lived with respondent since 2007; he resided with Mr. S. for a time, was placed with the M. family, a foster family,*fn2 for 20 months from October 2007 through June 2009, and was then returned to Mr. S.'s care. However, in August 2009, when William was seven years old, Mr. S. was sentenced to four years in prison. Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigator Carolina Bono was assigned to William's case. On August 26, 2009, based on Mr. S.'s incarceration and concern over respondent's mental health,*fn3 Judge Dickler ordered DCFS to take custody of William, who was then placed once again with the M. family.

In October 2009, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship and a motion for temporary custody, thereby initiating the instant cause. The petition alleged that William was neglected due to an injurious environment and abused due to substantial risk of injury. The petition cited respondent's history of alcohol abuse and mental illness, Mr. S.'s incarceration, and both parents' prior indicated reports where it was determined, following investigation, that there was credible evidence of abuse or neglect. Regarding these reports, the petition noted that respondent had two prior indicated reports for substantial risk of physical injury due to injurious environment and for medical neglect, while Mr. S. had four prior indicated reports for substantial risk of physical injury due to injurious environment. The petition also described that respondent had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mood disorder, that respondent admitted she has bipolar disorder, and that she stated she has been refusing to take her medication for over one year.

On November 3, 2009, a temporary custody hearing was held. Bono, William's DCFS investigator, testified that, as part of her investigation, she verified respondent's prior indicated reports as well as respondent's medical assessment that had been ordered by Judge Dickler. The assessment was also introduced into evidence. In the assessment, it was found, to a reasonable degree of psychiatric certainty, that: respondent has a history of depression, possibly bordering on bipolar disorder; she has a history of alcohol abuse and a pattern of unstable relationships; she does not understand William's needs; and her ability to parent and nurture William is minimal. Bono further testified that she met with respondent as part of her investigation. Respondent admitted to Bono that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and she received medication for this; however, she stated that she currently did not suffer from it but only from an anxiety disorder. Respondent also told Bono that, while she had a prior alcohol addiction, she had been sober for the last two years. Bono averred that, following her interview of respondent, she obtained records from respondent's local police department showing several police responses to her home for domestic violence between respondent and her current husband, and noting that respondent was intoxicated on seven occasions in 2009. Finally, Bono testified that, based on the information she had gathered, along with the fact that William had not been with respondent for over two years, she was concerned that William would be at risk should he be placed in respondent's care.

Respondent also testified at the temporary custody hearing. She stated that she is currently under the care of a doctor who monitors her medication management and that she sees him every two to three months. She testified that she is currently on medication for an anxiety disorder and that she is willing to do whatever she needs to regain custody of William. On cross-examination, respondent denied the existence of any domestic violence between her and her current husband. She averred that she remembered the police coming to her home four times, but that she never called them; rather, she referred to "fictitious calls," potentially from neighbors, and could not describe the instances in detail. She also attributed one of her prior indicated reports to her being late to pick William up from school, claiming that the school immediately called DCFS on her for this. Respondent admitted that William has not lived with her since 2007.

At the close of this hearing, the trial court held that probable cause existed that William was abused and neglected. Considering the facts before it, the court cited the prior indicated reports, a history of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, respondent's mental health issues, respondent's lack of continuous parenting of William for the last two years, and Judge Dickler's prior orders as the bases for its finding. The court issued an order giving temporary custody of William to DCFS, concluding that "immediate and urgent necessity" existed to support removal of William from the home, and that reasonable efforts could not prevent or eliminate the immediate and urgent necessity for removal. Further, the court denied visitation between William and respondent, stating that "based on the testimony and the evidence and testimony figuring out what is best for [William], I won't allow visitation" until a therapist could advise the court as to what type of visitation was in William's best interest, promising to "bring [the case] back every week" if necessary in order to "keep [the case] on a short leash and see how quickly we can get a visit." DCFS placed William with the M. family. The court then ordered a status hearing for the next week.

A series of status hearings followed from November 2009 to January 2010, regarding the issue of visitation. At these, William's caseworker, Camara Colvin, testified that she met with William, who was very nervous that she was going to take him out of his foster home. William was assigned to a therapist and began therapy at the end of November 2009. Colvin related that William had become very stressed after receiving a letter from respondent in the mail, crying and expressing fear that he would be removed from his foster home. Colvin further stated that William's therapist told her she needed more time to complete her assessment regarding the appropriateness of visitation between William and respondent. Regarding the status of the cause itself, Colvin averred that an integrated assessment had not yet been completed and that she could not prepare a service plan for respondent until this assessment was finished.

An adjudication hearing was held on March 3, 2010. At this hearing, respondent agreed to a written stipulation of facts. These included respondent's two prior indicated reports for substantial risk of injury due to injurious environment and medical neglect; the fact that she has another child not in her care or custody (i.e., Valerie M.); that she has not had custody of William since March 2007; that she has a history of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, mental illness and psychiatric hospitalizations; that she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mood disorder; and that she has not been taking any medication for these psychiatric disorders. Apart from again conceding the facts to which she stipulated and asking the trial court to find that she was non-custodial at the time William was taken by DCFS, respondent made no other argument at this hearing. Based upon the evidence, the court found that William was neglected due to an injurious environment and abused due to a substantial risk of physical injury. The court sought to continue on to the dispositional hearing at this point. However, the parties informed the court that the required integrated assessment had not yet been completed, nor had William's therapists issued the requested report regarding the appropriateness of visitation between William and respondent. The court set the case for further status.

At a status hearing in March 2010, Laurie Leslie, William's new caseworker, testified that the process for completing the integrated assessment had begun and that she would prepare the service plan for respondent once that was completed. A letter from the head of the clinical therapy program in which William was enrolled and William's two therapists was then presented to the court. The letter described the services they had been providing to William and diagnosed him with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. It also detailed William's therapy sessions in which William consistently expressed his desire not to visit respondent, his expressions of fear at the prospect of being returned to respondent's care, and his repeated refusal to even talk about respondent during therapy. The letter further stated that William "has not been very cooperative with therapy, and he usually does not want to talk." The therapists concluded that, because of this, they were not qualified to make any assessment regarding the appropriateness of visitation between William and respondent, as the court had requested.

Further status hearings were conducted in May and June 2010. Caseworker Leslie completed the integrated assessment and provided a copy of it to the parties. William continued to participate in therapy, but "shut down" whenever he was asked to discuss respondent or visitation with her.

In July 2010, respondent filed a motion requesting a finding that no reasonable efforts had been made to reunify her and William from August 2009 (when temporary custody was first given to DCFS by Judge Dickler) to the current time.

On July 29, 2010, the trial court conducted a dispositional hearing in William's cause and heard argument on respondent's motion. Caseworker Leslie testified on behalf of the State. She discussed that, while William's case began in November 2009, she was not assigned to it until February 2010 and the integrated assessment was not completed until June 2010. Regarding this assessment, Leslie noted that the following services were recommended for respondent: individual counseling, parenting classes, a parenting capacity assessment, a substance abuse assessment, domestic violence services and a psychological examination. Leslie had referred respondent for these services in June 2010, but as of the instant hearing, respondent had not participated in any of them. Leslie also described that further information on respondent was required, including records from the doctor she stated she sees for her medication management, her past psychiatric diagnosis and a current substance abuse assessment.

Regarding William, Leslie testified that he is still living with the M. family, where he has resided continuously since August 2009. Leslie visited this foster home and found that it was safe and appropriate. Leslie also testified regarding William's therapists. She described that William's initial therapist had closed his case in June 2010, believing that therapy was harming him, noting that he was not making progress and would not talk about respondent, and concluding that, therefore, she could not give a viable opinion as to whether visitation with respondent was appropriate. Leslie averred that she would identify a new therapist for William. However, Leslie described that the completed integrated assessment did address this issue and, along with recommendations from her agency, concluded that visitation between William and respondent was not appropriate. Leslie stated that she believed it was in William's best interest to be made a ward of the court.

In addition to Leslie's testimony, several documents were admitted into evidence, including the integrated assessment and two letters from Maria Potter, a licensed clinical supervisor involved in William's case. The integrated assessment noted that information obtained from interviews with respondent was contradicted by information from other sources, including police files, DCFS records and information gathered in interviews with William. It detailed incidents which prompted respondent's prior indicated reports, school interventions, respondent's psychiatric behavior and her discontinuation of her psychotropic medication.*fn4 The assessment also included interviews with respondent and William from March and April 2010. In her interview, respondent could not identify any weakness or areas requiring improvement in her parenting skills, and described her current relationship with William as "very close and very tight" and as "the greatest." Meanwhile, in his interview, William demonstrated a clear fear of respondent, rating it as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and he described that she hit him with a belt and did not feed him. William repeatedly stated to Leslie that he did not want to have any contact with respondent, cried, and appeared anxious when questioned about her. William expressed his desire to continue living in his foster home, stated that he felt safe there, and referred to his foster parents as "mom" and "dad." William had also just successfully completed the second grade. Based on all this, the integrated assessment concluded that the prospect for reunification was poor, that respondent needed to address several issues before reunification could be considered, and that visitation between respondent and William should take place only if and when William agreed to it. Clinical supervisor Potter's letters, prepared in July 2010, reviewed William's situation and recommended that visitation between William and respondent was not appropriate.

Following the evidence, the trial court heard argument from the parties. The State and the public guardian agreed that it was in William's best interest to be made a ward of the court, that respondent be found unable to care for him, and that respondent's motion for a finding of no reasonable efforts be denied. Respondent, meanwhile, argued solely that she could only be ...

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