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In Re Dixon





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Rock Island County; the Hon. L.E. ELLISON, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE BARRY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

On December 28, 1978, the Circuit Court of Rock Island County terminated the parental rights of Clarence and Joyce Dixon on the grounds that they were unfit parents. The court also empowered the guardianship administrator of the Department of Children and Family Services to consent to the adoption of the Dixons' three minor children, Clarence Jr. (Clancy), Barbara, and Joyce Jr. (JoJo). It is from this order that the appellant, Clarence Dixon, Sr., appeals. The children's mother, Joyce Dixon, Sr., is not a party to this appeal.

The State called a number of witnesses at the hearing on the petition to terminate the Dixons' parental rights and we believe it necessary to detail their testimony. The first was Dr. Roger Gennari, a clinical psychologist associated with the Rock Island Mental Health Center. In 1974, Clancy, then age two, was referred to Dr. Gennari by the pediatric department of Franciscan Hospital where he had been hospitalized at his mother's request. Dr. Gennari found that Clancy's intellectual and motor development was "severely delayed." He also found marks of physical abuse on Clancy's body. Dr. Gennari was of the opinion that bruises and burns on Clancy's ankles were caused by a restraint. He testified that at this time his recommendation was continued hospitalization for Clancy and removal from his parents' care. Later in the year he had the opportunity to examine Barbara Dixon, who was then four years old. This examination came at the request of the Department of Children and Family Services. Dr. Gennari found that, like her younger brother, Barbara suffered from "developmental delay." He testified that she was moderately retarded, but that her retardation was due to psycho-social deprivation. Dr. Gennari defined psycho-social deprivation as follows:

"In general it is a situation where what is considered normal input and care for children is lacking, so that there is a decrease in developmental growth, meaning psychological growth, and in intellectual growth. We typically will look for lack of affection between mother and child, lack of proper physical care, isolation of the child from other children, poor physical environment, that sort of thing.

What the diagnosis is saying is that there is presently retardation, but it is due to environmental reasons rather than demonstrable internal events of the child."

On the basis of his evaluation of Barbara, Dr. Gennari recommended that she be placed in a foster home, that she continue in the special education program she was currently attending, and that she be reevaluated in six months. When Dr. Gennari saw Barbara six months later, he found her progress to be "amazing." During this period of time Barbara had been in a foster home.

In June of 1975, the Dixons came to Dr. Gennari for evaluation and possible therapy, having been referred to him by Marilyn Wade, a worker at the Department of Children and Family Services. At the second meeting with the Dixons, Dr. Gennari spoke with each privately. Clarence Dixon told him at the time that he was worried "because Mrs. Dixon was very cold toward the children." He also thought that she was a poor mother, and voiced concern about her outbursts of temper toward both him and their children. According to Dr. Gennari, Clarence Dixon stated that "he would get rid of Mrs. Dixon if she didn't behave differently in the home." However, when Dr. Gennari later asked Mrs. Dixon if her husband had been "pressuring" her to alter her attitude toward her family, she replied that he had not. Dr. Gennari also stated that although the Dixons' attendance at a weekly abusive parents group had been erratic at first, it gradually improved. The direct examination of Dr. Gennari concluded when he stated that he felt the Dixons had not made the necessary progress to have their children returned to them.

On cross-examination by Ms. Diehl, the guardian ad litem, Dr. Gennari elaborated on the basis for his conclusion, particularly in regard to Mr. Dixon. He stated that he had some doubts about the genuineness of Clarence Dixon's concern about his wife's maternal abilities. Dr. Gennari believed that Mr. Dixon was trying to evade responsibility for the children's condition by placing the blame on his wife. "I thought he was trying to make her the scapegoat as though he had nothing to do with what was going on," Dr. Gennari testified. Ms. Diehl then asked Dr. Gennari:

"Q. Do you feel that Mr. Dixon was able to assume, through these three years of counseling, any more responsibility in the family or see any progress in that area?

A. No, I really didn't. I thought he still maintained that the problem was Joyce's, would always be, and that he wasn't to be all that involved with taking care of the children."

On a scale from one to 10, with the best parenting skills at 10 and no parenting skills at one, Dr. Gennari gave Mr. Dixon a two, "Mainly because he doesn't do anything with the children." On the same scale he gave Mrs. Dixon, whom he considered to be developmentally disabled, a three.

The second witness for the State was Marilyn Wade, a child-abuse team leader for the Department of Children and Family Services from 1974 until June 1978. Ms. Wade first became involved in the Dixon case after Clancy was hospitalized in 1974. Subsequent to Clancy's hospitalization Ms. Wade made a number of visits to the Dixon home. On one of these occasions when Barbara's behavior was very distracting, Ms. Wade testified that the following occurred:

"Mr. Dixon took a belt that hung between the living room and kitchen on a wall there, and put it over his back and told her to get back, sit down. With that the child, kind've like a frightened animal, became very quiet, backed down, sat in the corner, cross-legged, for the whole time I was there. Didn't speak. But it was with the belt. And she looked terrified."

Ms. Wade further testified that Mrs. Dixon admitted tying Clancy's legs together while on the potty chair because "he wouldn't sit still." Mr. Dixon did not indicate to Ms. Wade at this time that he knew of his wife's actions, although he did telephone Ms. Wade "many times to voice his concern that the woman wasn't treating the kids rights [sic]." Despite this apparent concern, Ms. Wade's requests that Clarence Dixon take the children to the doctor after work or attend a parenting group for help went unanswered.

Jan Randall, another member of the Department of Children and Family Services' child abuse team, first became acquainted with the Dixons in September 1974. At this time only Barbara and JoJo remained in the Dixon home, Clancy having been voluntarily placed in a foster home in June of that year. During one of Ms. Randall's twice weekly visits, she observed JoJo (then little more than one year old) tied in a potty chair with a white cord and a belt. Joyce Dixon told Ms. Randall that she used the restraints to hold her in the chair.

Both Clarence and Joyce Dixon possessed a rather bizarre view of their children. Ms. Randall testified from a written report she prepared in April of 1975:

"It says when I visited Dixon she was quick to describe her children as different. Couldn't understand why she had to have kids who acted so weirdly. Both parents made statements to me that these kids weren't really theirs. They thought their kids were born. That these creatures from outer space came and took their place. Mr. Dixon stated he had fathered nine other children and none of them acted as these kids do."

Barbara was placed in a foster home in November of 1974. This was the same home in which Clancy had been living since June of that year. Ms. Randall stated that she would visit the foster home weekly to monitor the progress of the Dixon children. She stated that Barbara's behavior improved dramatically while under foster care. She was more calm, deliberate, and considerably less hyperactive than she had ...

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