Judge Denies Visitation Rights For Grandmother

Thursday, May 3rd 2007, 4:53 pm
By: News On 6

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) -- A judge on Thursday denied a woman visitation rights with her 6-year-old grandson, who the court says returned filthy and maladjusted after she took him illegally from Illinois and hid from authorities for more than two years.

Peoria County Judge Albert Purham Jr. said he will reconsider Doris Garretson's bid for visitation in 60 days after additional medical evaluations of Jonathan Smalley, who was found with his grandmother April 3 in Tulsa, Okla., based on a tip from a missing person flier.

Purham said he has not ruled out restoring Garretson's custody of the Peoria boy, who is now being cared for by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

But the judge said Jonathan "didn't prosper" during two years in hiding with his 68-year-old grandmother, and returned to Illinois with a litany of health, hygiene and behavior problems.

The boy, who turned 6 in March, weighed just over 33 pounds, with yellow teeth and head lice, child welfare officials said. He was not toilet trained, could not feed himself or drink from a glass and did not speak or respond to his name.

The boy also plays with toys far below his age level, bangs his head when toys are taken away and has to be watched to make sure he doesn't hurt himself, Purham said.

"I think that you love him but at some point we have to look at the bigger picture," Purham told Garretson.

Garretson said outside court that she took good care of her grandson and blamed his hygiene problems on an overcrowded Tulsa shelter where he lived after she was arrested. Illinois later declined to prosecute her on a warrant of failing to return the child to DCFS.

The boy's behavior problems stem from the trauma of being taken away from her, Garretson told reporters.

"He's used to me all of his life. ... A little bit of these behaviors he's displaying is how he reacts when he's upset, like screaming and kicking," Garretson said.

Garretson said she is hopeful the judge will ultimately grant her visitation or custody, but fears DCFS will fight the move because she hid the boy from authorities for so long.

Prosecutors, DCFS officials and an attorney appointed to represent the boy's interests oppose custody or visitation for Garretson.

"She should not be allowed around this child or any other," Louise Natonek, the boy's court-appointed attorney, told Purham.

Purham said he will again consider Garretson's bid for visitation on July 12, after more tests to gauge his health and developmental disabilities. His custody ruling will depend on whether the boy can someday live in a home rather than a residential treatment facility, he said.

Garretson says she panicked and fled with her grandson after disagreements over his medical treatment made her fear DCFS would take him away from her.

Authorities have said Garretson had legal custody when the boy disappeared more than two years ago. When she later missed a court appearance relating to custody in 2005, a judge awarded temporary custody to DCFS and issued a warrant for Garretson's arrest. The judge also ruled Garretson unfit to care for the boy, citing her failure to cooperate with child-care officials.

She was arrested after a tip sparked by a missing person flier led police to a house in Tulsa.

Garretson said she has taken care of the boy since birth, excluding six weeks when he was taken by DCFS in a dispute over medical care. Garretson said her daughter gave her temporary guardianship because she has emotional problems and is unable to care for the boy.

Related stories:

4/4/2007 Missing Illinois Boy Found In Tulsa

4/5/2007 Grandmother Accused Of Kidnapping Speaks Of Her Life On The Run

To view a video of that interview, click here.

4/7/2007 Grandmother Won't Face Charges In Illinois Abduction

4/12/2007 Woman Who Hid Grandson Hopes To Regain Custody