In re Gwynne P.

Decision Date19 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. 98131.,98131.
PartiesIn re GWYNNE P., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Detra W., Appellant).
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

Donna L. Ryder, Chicago, for appellant.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Springfield, Richard A. Devine, State's Attorney, Chicago (Renee Goldfarb, Nancy Kisicki, Nancy Faulls, Assistant States's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Patrick T. Murphy, Charles P. Golbert, Christopher Williams, Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, Chicago, for the minor.

Michael A. Pollard, Steven Dixon, Angela C. Vigil, of Baker & McKenzie, L.L.P., Chicago (Thomas R. Gerety, Kirsten D. Levingston, New York, New York, of counsel), for amici curiae Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers et al.

Justice KARMEIER* delivered the opinion of the court:

Gwynne P., a minor, has been a ward of the state since shortly after her birth. When Gwynne was just over a year and a half old, the State petitioned the circuit court of Cook County to terminate the parental rights of her biological parents and to appoint a guardian with the right to consent to her adoption. Following the requisite hearings, the State's petition was allowed. Both biological parents appealed. The appellate court affirmed. 346 Ill.App.3d 584, 281 Ill.Dec. 961, 805 N.E.2d 329. We granted the biological mother's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill.2d R. 315. For the reasons that follow, we now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

Gwynne was born June 18, 1999. At the time, both of her biological parents were incarcerated. This was not a novel circumstance for either of them. By June of 1999, Gwynne's father, Edward Davis, had amassed a significant criminal record, including felony convictions for theft, burglary, aggravated battery, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and retail theft. Edward was in jail awaiting trial on an additional felony theft charge when Gwynne's mother gave birth to her. He was convicted of that offense the following month and sentenced to 15 years in the Department of Corrections. He began serving that sentence on September 3, 1999.

Gwynne's mother, Detra Welch, also sometimes known as Jodia (or Jodi or Jody) McMullen, also sometimes known as Melissa P., also sometimes known as Latonya Reed, was convicted of retail theft and sentenced to 18 months' probation in 1992. She was subsequently found to have violated the terms of her probation and sentenced to 120 days in the Cook County Department of Corrections. In 1997, she pleaded guilty to unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and was sentenced to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. She also pleaded guilty to a new charge of retail theft for which she was sentenced to an additional year in the Department of Corrections.

Shortly after Detra began serving the sentences imposed for her 1997 convictions, she was transferred to a work release program in Chicago. While participating in that program, Detra escaped from custody by breaking her electronic monitoring device. She remained at large until June 15, 1999, three days before Gwynne's birth, when she was arrested on new drug charges.

On the eve of Gwynne's birth, Detra was indicted for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and multiple other drug offenses. Detra was subsequently transported from the Cook County jail, where she was being held, to the West Suburban Hospital, where she gave birth to Gywnne. A long-term drug abuser, Detra transmitted her affliction to her new baby daughter in utero. Drug tests administered to Gwynne shortly after her birth disclosed the presence of cocaine and opiates in her system. Gwynne began experiencing heavy drug withdrawal symptoms for which she required medication. She was later diagnosed with severe developmental deficits attributable to her mother's illegal drug use.

Detra's contact with her new baby was short-lived. On June 21, 1999, Detra was released from the hospital and taken back to the Cook County jail. Soon thereafter, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, one of the new offenses charged in the June 1999 indictment. That conviction resulted in Detra's return to the Department of Corrections on August 11, 1999.

Detra had numerous problems while in prison. Between 1997 and the end of November 2001, she received a total of 12 inmate disciplinary reports. Most arose from minor rule infractions. Some were more serious, however, and resulted in her being placed in segregation. The most significant punishment arose from her escape in 1998. As a result of that escape, Detra lost a year of good-time credits, received a C grade classification, and was segregated from the prison's general population for a full year. The period of disciplinary segregation encompassed most of the first year of Gwynne's life and carried over into her second. Detra was eventually released from the Department of Corrections in March of 2002, three months before Gwynne's third birthday.

Gwynne is not Detra's only child. She has three other offspring, Judia, now 21; George, now 19; and Sade, now 18. Those three children were sent to live with relatives in Wisconsin when Detra began serving her prison sentences for her 1997 drug and theft convictions. The record indicates that Judia and Sade remained there without incident. George did not.

After his mother was sent to prison, George lived briefly with his maternal grandmother in Milwaukee. He soon left there to return to Chicago, where he stayed with his maternal uncle, Detra's brother. The uncle beat George, made him sleep on the floor, and forced him to watch the uncle and the uncle's male paramour engage in sexual intercourse. Eventually the situation was brought to the attention of authorities, who removed George from the uncle's home and placed him in a shelter.

The State was granted temporary custody of George on December 18, 1997, and placed him with his maternal aunt. George apparently remained there until July of 1999, when he fled the State. His whereabouts remained unknown until October of 2000, when a DCFS worker discovered that he had gone back to stay with his maternal grandmother in Milwaukee.

While Detra was released from the hospital on June 21, 1999, Gwynne remained there until July 1, 1999, when she was admitted to the Maryville Center for Medically Complex Children. In the interim, DCFS was granted temporary custody of the child. On June 29, 1999, when Gwynne was 11 days old, the State petitioned the circuit court of Cook County pursuant to the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 2002)) to make her a ward of the court.

After providing notice to the biological parents, the court conducted a temporary custody hearing pursuant to section 2-10 of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-10 (West 2002)). Based on that hearing, the court determined that probable cause existed to believe that Gwynne was neglected, abused and dependent; that there was an immediate and urgent necessity to remove the child from her parents' home; and that no efforts could reasonably be made at that time to prevent or eliminate the necessity for removing the child from the home. The court therefore ordered that Gwynne be removed from the home and granted DCFS temporary custody of her.1

The circuit court entered its order placing Gwynne in temporary custody on July 9, 1999. An adjudicatory hearing was subsequently held at which the court found that Gwynne was a neglected or abused minor within the meaning of section 2-3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-3 (West 2002)) because her environment was injurious to her welfare (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(b) (West 2002)), because she had controlled substances in her system that were not attributable to the medical care administered to her or her mother (705 ILCS 405/2-3(1)(c) (West 2002)), and because her parents created a substantial risk of physical injury to her by other than accidental means (705 ILCS 405/2-3(2)(ii) (West 2002)). The court further determined that Gwynne was a dependent minor as defined by section 2-4 of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-4 (West 2002)).

After making the foregoing findings, the court immediately convened a dispositional hearing pursuant to section 2-21(2) of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/2-21(2) (West 2002)). In a dispositional order entered December 7, 1999, the court found that Gwynne's mother, Detra, was an unfit parent and that both of Gwynne's parents were unable to care for her. The court determined that reasonable efforts had been made to prevent or eliminate Gwynne's removal from her home, that appropriate services aimed at family preservation and family reunification had been unsuccessful, and that it was in Gwynne's best interests that she be removed from the custody of the parents, guardian or custodian. The court therefore adjudged Gwynne to be a ward of the court and placed her under the guardianship of DCFS.

Through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), Gwynne was placed in a specialized foster home. In February of 2000, Gwynne was moved to what the record describes as a preadoptive, nonrelative foster home. A report prepared for the court by LSSI in May of 2000 indicated that the foster mother expressed a desire to adopt Gwynne if plans to return her home failed and that Gwynne could reasonably expect to remain in the foster parent's care until adulthood.

Gwynne has now resided with the same foster family for five years, nearly her entire life. The family consists of the foster parents, their biological daughter, and an adopted daughter who has special needs similar to Gwynne's. Both foster parents have undergone extensive training to deal with the type of problems facing Gwynne, and the foster ...

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