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3 sisters told DCFS of years of abuse
Girls related beatings, threats by child-welfare advocate they lived with
By Ofelia Casillas
Chicago Tribune reporter
Three Rosemont sisters said they were not just physically abused by their mother, a prominent child-welfare advocate who has been a foster parent for 22 years. The girls said they also were beaten by her adult biological daughter and sexually abused by her adult son, according to state records.
Both Patricia Cooper, 67, and her biological daughter would beat the children and douse one of the girls, who has a skin disorder, with bleach "as a means of discipline," according to the child-welfare records.
When one of the sisters confronted Cooper about the sexual abuse, the mother allegedly insulted the girl and did not believe her, the records say. The girl began running away, even staying with her biological mother, whom the child-welfare system had deemed unfit, according to the records.
On Wednesday, Cooper—a leader of the Illinois Council on Adoptable Children, an advocacy group that has advised the state on adoption laws—was charged with two counts of permitting the sexual abuse of a child, authorities said. Cooper's son, Christopher, 26, who lived in the home, was charged last week with predatory criminal sexual assault on allegations that he repeatedly molested two of the girls, now ages 15 and 17, over eight years.
Cooper has not been charged with physically abusing the girls, and her adult daughter has not been charged with a crime.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigated complaints of physical and sexual abuse in the home at least twice, in late 2006 and earlier this year.
But the agency did not find credible evidence of abuse, according to state records and a DCFS spokesman, who declined to comment further. Prosecutors said the girls had tried to report the abuse in the past but had recanted their stories after Cooper threatened them. In the investigation of the criminal charges, the girls made similar allegations of physical and sexual abuse to law-enforcement officials and child-welfare officials, according to child-welfare records.
One of the sisters who allegedly became pregnant because of the abuse and was forced to get an abortion was at times not let out of the house, according to the records. Cooper "poured a solution of water and Pine-Sol cleaner over the head" of another daughter "when she did not clean to her standards," the records say.
"These children are threatened to not tell," the documents say. "Ms. Cooper feels that the children should be grateful for her taking them in and should not complain when others in the home abuse them."
Other records say Cooper called the girls names and swore and yelled at them.
"If they do not comply with her wishes she takes them out of school and keeps them locked in the home," one report says. Cooper allowed one sister to return to her biological family "if they promised to keep her quiet about the abuses," the report says.
Cooper's biological daughter beat the girls "with belts, wooden spoons and shoes if they were disobedient," the records say.
Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said the case illustrates "the reluctance we see in investigations to make sure the kids are safe as opposed to trying to maintain the family at all cost."
Cooper's relationship to the child-welfare system could have created a bias against investigating the charges thoroughly, he said.
"DCFS or any other agency is going to be a lot more cautious about what allegations they make and how they proceed because of what might be the perceived stature or influence" of the accused, Harris said.
Officials at the agency said Cooper's role in the child-welfare system did not affect their investigation.
On Aug. 22, the agency removed three children from Cooper's home after a call to its hot line, a DCFS spokesman said. One of the girls already had left the Coopers' home, state records show.
DCFS officials told police that Cooper had as many as 70 children under her care over the last 30 years, Rosemont Police Sgt. Keith Kania said Thursday. He added that Cooper adopted nine children. DCFS officials have not confirmed how many foster children were placed with Cooper.
Kania said the DCFS investigator involved with the Cooper case was "extremely cooperative," but he said other DCFS officials have "not been that cooperative." Officials at the agency declined to comment without knowing specifics.
Cooper started taking on child-welfare leadership roles in 1990 as president of the Illinois Council on Adoptable Children. State records show that the council, which had the same address as Cooper's home, lost its status as a state-chartered not-for-profit Aug. 8.
The DCFS director at the time appointed Cooper to be on the Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council in 1996 and the state's adoption advisory council three years later.
While meeting records show that Cooper has attended few adoption advisory council meetings in the last five years, she was active in 2003 and 2004 on the foster-care council and brought a guest to two gatherings: her son, Christopher.
Tribune reporter Liam Ford and freelance reporter Carolyn Rusin contributed to this report.