New 1st Dist. Opinion Highlights Difficulty of Parental Rights Cases

In May, I blogged about the horrible nature of abuse/neglect/termination of parental rights proceedings. 

In the recent case of In re Yohan K., Justice Hyman of the First District Appellate Court delivers a 49-page opinion that illustrates the factual and moral dilemmas inherent in many parental rights cases. 

Here is the introduction to the opinion.  

The facts in child abuse and neglect cases seem rather straightforward at times, but more often than not, the facts venture into gray areas. While judges try, no judge or set of judges can perfectly reconstruct the past or perfectly predict what will happen in the future, which partly explains why offenses against children rank among the most gut-wrenching and challenging proceedings judges handle. This appeal calls for a measure of clarity to what has essentially been characterized as either a "constellation of injuries" suffered at human hands or a cluster of difficult-to-diagnose and rare medical conditions brought on by the mysteries of the human body. 

The allegations of abuse and neglect involve a weeks-old newborn whose parents the trial judge describes as loving, responsible, and nurturing. The trial court heard tangled facts made all1-12-3472 the worse by seemingly conflicting expert medical testimony. Discerning the source of the baby's conditions left the conscientious trial judge in a quandary. 

After agonizing over how to rule, the trial court placed the family in a strange limbo. He determined the parents to be fit, willing, and able to care for their children despite finding (i) physical abuse to a child, (ii) "neglect injurious environment," and (iii) "abuse substantial risk of injury" by an unknown perpetrator. The State and the guardian ad litem (GAL) (collectively, the proponents) on behalf of baby Yohan, born on May 1, 2011, and his now almost five-year-old sister, Marika, born October 13, 2008, along with the parents, K.S. and Teresa G., all argue that the trial court's decision should not stand and they should be awarded total victory. 

What makes this case all the more troubling is that the proponents and the parents put forward opposing explanations, neither of which is flattering to the other side. The proponents say one of the parents inflicted horrendous injuries to his or her newborn. The parents say their lives have been turned inside-out because overzealous doctors and agencies have let speculation trump medical science. 

As vexing as this case appears, after a thorough, painstaking examination of the entire record, and in particular a detailed analysis of the expert testimony, we conclude that the trial judge's finding of abuse and neglect cannot stand, and K. S. and Teresa G. have been thrust into a nightmare by well-intentioned, but misguided doctors and child protection specialists.* 

*FOOTNOTE: The court wishes to commend the counsel for each of the parties to this appeal for their well-drafted briefs.