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Judge overturns abuse claims against foster mother

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BLOOMINGTON — A McLean County judge on Tuesday overturned allegations of child abuse and torture leveled by the state's child welfare agency against a Heyworth woman who served as a foster parent to a child with a rare behavioral disorder marked by self-harm and lying about his injuries.

Karen Monk and her husband, Crosby, were first-time foster parents in September 2014 when the 4-year-old boy was placed with them. Another couple reported severe behavioral issues with the child and had decided against adoption, according to court records.

After several months without issues, the Monks asked for help when the child, diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, became aggressive and defiant. A team of counselors, social workers and doctors consulted with the family but no progress was made, and in March 2015, the Monks asked that the child be placed in another home.

The allegations of abuse, neglect and torture against Karen Monk are based on several incidents that took place while the boy was at the rural Heyworth home.

Monk's lawyer, Alan Novick, argued Tuesday that the foster mother was not being abusive when she sent the child outside to run during his extended periods of screaming but instead was following a recommendation from his counselors. 

The child's claim that Monk smashed his face into a mirror was one of many lies the boy told about his self-inflicted injuries, said Novick.

"It was very clear this was an untruthful child," said Novick, adding that "reactive attachment disorder manifests itself in a lot of sad ways."

In April 2015, the child suffered an injury to his lip when he fell in the shower. Monk told authorities she called her husband, who was about nine minutes away, and a caseworker before calling 911. When he reached the hospital, the boy was diagnosed with hypothermia.

The state alleged that Monk failed to provide appropriate medical attention by delaying the call for an ambulance.

DCFS spokeswoman Veronica Resa said Tuesday the agency's investigation started with a hotline call placed by a person concerned about the boy's medical condition after the fall.

By the time the incident took place in the shower, "the Monks were no longer a family that could function," said Novick.

Assistant Attorney General Louis Laugges argued Tuesday the allegations of abuse "are well supported by the evidence."

In asking the judge to maintain Monk's inclusion on a list of confirmed child abusers, Laugges acknowledged the child suffered no long-term injuries, saying "it's the risk of harm not the actual harm that happened here." 

Laugges also disputed Novick's contention that a supervisor for DCFS should not have been allowed to testify at an administrative hearing in place of the caseworker assigned to the Monks' case.

According to the state's lawyer, the diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder has been changed, or "downgraded" since the boy's placement in another home.

After the ruling, Monk cried as she was hugged by her husband. "I hope this gives us peace," she said of the decision that will allow her to return to work as a substitute teacher.

Novick said he believes the 77 letters of support submitted on Monk's behalf had an impact on the judge's decision. In his ruling, Lawrence said he was concerned that the letters were not referenced in the administrative judge's decision.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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