Parental Termination is a Long, Winding Road

The road to the final termination of parental rights is long and winding. The Chicago Reporter examined court files, medical and police reports and Illinois Department of Children and Family Services case files to retrace the five-year saga of Joanne and Jerry Nicholas:

1993

June 30 An anonymous caller reports that Jerry Nicholas, then 27, threatened to kill himself and his six children, ages 1 to 7. He had twice been charged with domestic violence. DCFS investigators arrive at their Englewood home and determine the children are at substantial risk of physical injury “due to statements made by the father and behavior of father.”

July 16 The Cook County State’s Attorney files a petition in Juvenile Court, alleging the children are at risk.

July 26 A judge grants a motion for temporary custody, finding probable cause of abuse and neglect.

July 27 The court orders physical and psychiatric evaluations for the children. DCFS moves the children to Columbus Maryville, a shelter at 810 W. Montrose Ave., and on Aug. 24, they are placed with relatives and foster parents.

Aug. 23 A genital exam of one child indicates an “injury consistent with vaginal trauma.” Medical records show that in 1989, the girl had surgery in the vaginal area. The family argues the scars are confused with sexual abuse.

Aug. 30 DCFS sends the Nicholases a letter, stating that “credible evidence” identified Jerry Nicholas as the “perpetrator” of child abuse or neglect.

Sept. 1 DCFS presents the couple with a plan for psychological assessment, marital counseling, individual therapy and parenting classes. Its goal: to return the children to their parents.

Sept. 15 Jerry Nicholas begins a nine-week class at Parental Stress Services at Bethany Hospital, 3435 W. Van Buren St. While Nicholas “cooperated,” class facilitator Denise Orzel later wrote, “he seemed only concerned and preoccupied about the immediate return of his children.”

Nov. 5 The couple undergoes a psychiatric evaluation. Subsequent examinations determine they are “mildly” or “moderately retarded.”

Nov. 10 The Nicholases file an appeal refuting DCFS’ abuse and neglect finding.

1994

May 3 The couple refuses to sign a revised service plan designed by DCFS and ChildServ, an agency at 9415 S. Western Ave. Joanne Nicholas recently told the Reporter, “I considered signing that service plan was giving up the rights to my kids.”

Sept. 13 A judge finds that four of the children were physically abused, three were sexually abused and five were subjected to excessive corporal punishment.

Nov. 2 The court finds that the Nicholases are unfit and prohibits any contact with the children.

1995

Nov. 22 The state’s attorney petitions to appoint a guardian with the right to consent to adoption.

1997

July 24 DCFS recommends that “parental rights need to be terminated ASAP.” Since 1993, five lawyers representing the couple have withdrawn from the case, one citing “irreconcilable differences” and another after learning that the case involved “10 boxes of discovery.”

1998

Sept. 8 At the termination hearing, Nicholas represents himself and his wife.

Sept. 11 Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carol Pearce McCarthy terminates their parental rights.

Oct. 6 The HOPE Foundation, a community group at 510 E. 92nd St., helps the Nicholases file an appeal.

Dec. 17 Status hearing in preparation for adoption proceedings; the Nicholas appeal is pending. The children have been in foster care for more than five years.

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