(CN) - A couple who kept two foster children in an outdoor "cage" did not abuse or neglect them, an Illinois appeals court ruled.
Dee Ann Walk and Michael Hammack challenged the removal of the boys from their home by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
The boys, Anthony and Douglas, were 9 and 7 years old, respectively, when the DCFS removed them from the home. Both children were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional-defiant disorder.
Walk and Hammack said the boys needed close supervision because they tended to put things like paper, tree bark and animal feces in their mouths; they destroyed $60,000 worth of property by starting a fire and throwing tools into a swimming pool, among other acts of vandalism; they urinated around the house; and they kicked a dog to death and killed 300 chickens by stabbing them with nails.
During an unannounced home visit by a DCFS investigator, Douglas said he enjoyed playing with Anthony in the "cage," but added that the plaintiffs locked them in.
The chain-link enclosure had six-foot walls and contained an 8-by-8-foot sandbox. Reports on its size range from 8-by-10 feet to 16-by-24 feet. The plaintiffs said the enclosure was built to keep feral cats and other animals from defecating in the sandbox, but Walk allegedly told a DCFS investigator that it had a chain-link top to keep the boys from climbing out.
DCFS took the children on the grounds of inadequate supervision and "close confinement."
Walk and Hammack appealed, and the 4th District Court of Appeal in Springfield overturned the decision, ruling that the enclosure was not unreasonably confining.
"Nothing in the record suggests plaintiffs left the children in the structure for an extended period of time during which plaintiffs denied them food or water or use of bathroom facilities," Justice James Knecht wrote. "For this very reason, we disagree with the administrative law judge and director's determination the structure was unreasonably close confining."
Knecht added that "unreasonable close confinement does not occur simply because children lack vast space outside to walk and run. If this were the case, allowing children to play in a small, fenced-in backyard would constitute abuse and neglect."