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In Re J.C., A Minor (The People of the State of Illinois v. Iola H

November 18, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 09 JA 392 Honorable Nicholas Geanopoulos, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cahill

JUSTICE CAHILL delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Robert E. Gordon and Justice Garcia concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 Respondent, Iola H., is the biological mother of J.C., a minor. She appeals from a trial court adjudication order finding J.C. was physically abused and that he was abused because of a substantial risk of physical injury under the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i), 2(ii) (West 2010)). We affirm.

¶ 2 On March 10, 2009, when J.C. was 22 months old, he was diagnosed at Loyola University Medical Center (Loyola) with second- and third-degree burns to about 30% of his body. Because doctors found J.C.'s life-threatening injuries to be the result of child abuse and since respondent had delayed in seeking medical attention for J.C., hospital personnel contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). DCFS took protective custody of J.C. on May 4, 2009, and contacted police. Respondent was later charged with aggravated battery.

¶ 3 On May 5, 2009, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship against J.C., alleging respondent: had one earlier indicated report for second-degree burns to J.C. resulting from neglect; had an earlier "intact" case opened for her and closed on April 30, 2008; and had been charged with aggravated battery of J.C. and was currently incarcerated. The State also alleged J.C. was neglected because of a lack of care and because his environment was injurious to his welfare (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(a), (1)(b) (West 2010)). The State also alleged respondent physically abused J.C. and that he was abused because of a substantial risk of physical injury (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(i), (2)(ii) (West 2010)).

¶ 4 The court held an adjudicatory hearing on April 19, 2011. Barry Bennett, the manager of social work and case management at Loyola, testified at the hearing that he first encountered J.C. in November 2007, when J.C. was admitted to the hospital for a second-degree burn to about 10% of his body. In assessing the cause of J.C.'s injury, Bennett interviewed respondent. Respondent told Bennet that while she was bathing J.C. in the bathroom sink, she left the bathroom to get a towel. Respondent left the water running while she retrieved the towel. Before respondent returned to the bathroom, the telephone rang. Respondent answered the phone and heard J.C. start to cry. She returned to the bathroom and noticed that the water was hot. She lifted J.C. out of the sink and began to dry him off with a towel. Respondent noticed that J.C.'s skin was peeling and blistering. Respondent called 911 and took J.C. to the emergency room.

¶ 5 On March 10, 2009, the day after J.C.'s second injury, Bennett interviewed respondent, respondent's mother and J.C.'s father. Respondent told Bennett that while she was in the shower with J.C., rinsing him with a handheld showerhead, the water suddenly turned hot. J.C. began to scream and respondent's mother was able to comfort him. Neither respondent nor her mother noticed blisters or burns on J.C.'s body at the time of the injury. Respondent put J.C. to bed and he fell asleep. The next morning, respondent saw burns on J.C.'s body and took him to the Ingalls Memorial Hospital emergency room. Later that day, J.C. was transferred to Loyola, where his injuries were diagnosed as critical and life-threatening. Respondent told Bennett that she had not been burned at the same time.

¶ 6 Bennett also testified that he worked as part of a team in determining whether J.C.'s injuries were consistent with respondent's explanation of what happened. Bennett said he was uncomfortable offering a forensic opinion about how J.C.'s injuries occurred but that the injuries were not inconsistent with what could happen with a handheld showerhead. He said J.C.'s injuries were not the result of immersion into hot water. Bennett also said that he was concerned about the amount of time it took respondent to bring J.C. to the hospital after his injury.

¶ 7 Tamara Williams Brady, a DCFS child protection service investigator, testified that she was assigned to J.C.'s case in March 2009. During her investigation, Brady learned that there was one earlier indicated report for J.C.'s family. The report was indicated against respondent for "burns by neglect."

¶ 8 Brady spoke with respondent at the Harvey police station on March 11, 2009. Respondent told Brady a story about how J.C. was injured substantially similar to what she told Bennett. Respondent added that J.C. was facing her in the shower and as she rinsed him off with a handheld showerhead, the water suddenly turned hot. Respondent said she dropped the showerhead and the water splashed everywhere, burning J.C. Respondent told Brady she was not burned by the water. After the injury, respondent took J.C. to her mother's house. Respondent said she did not call 911 or the hospital for medical advice. Respondent's mother called a pharmacy and was advised to buy antibiotic cream. Respondent bought the cream but did not apply it to J.C. because he had no blisters on his body. About 9 p.m., respondent returned to her own home and put J.C. to bed, where he stayed until the next morning. Respondent said J.C. did not cry during the night and showed no signs of pain. The next morning, March 10, 2009, respondent noticed two small blisters on J.C.'s face. She also noticed that J.C.'s skin was peeling. Respondent later noticed that blisters began to form on J.C.'s back and buttocks and that these, too, began to peel. Respondent then took J.C. to the hospital.

¶ 9 Brady also testified that as part of her investigation, she spoke with J.C.'s father, who told her that he was in respondent's home when J.C. was burned. He said that after respondent and J.C. had been in the shower for a short time, respondent screamed. Respondent's mother ran into the bathroom. The father said respondent and her mother took J.C. out of the shower and wrapped him in a towel. The father said he did not see that J.C. was injured. He did not call 911, the hospital or inquire about medical treatment. The father also told Brady that he checked on J.C. about every 20 minutes during the night until about 1:30 a.m. The next morning, J.C.'s father went to work without checking on J.C. He received a telephone call from respondent later that day and learned that J.C. had blisters on his body and was in the hospital.

ΒΆ 10 Brady further testified that on March 11, 2009, she, along with respondent's mother and a detective, went to respondent's home and tested the temperature of the water in the shower. Brady said that when the hot water was run alone in the shower, it reached a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. When the hot and cold water were run simultaneously, the water reached a temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Brady said ...

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