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04/07/94 J.P. AND H.N. v. VELMA HUNT

April 7, 1994


Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County. Nos. 90J125, 90J129. Honorable Thomas J. Fahey, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected May 9, 1994. Released for Publication June 1, 1994.

Justices: Honorable Carl A. Lund, J., Honorable Robert W. Cook, J., Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lund

JUSTICE LUND delivered the opinion of the court:

Respondent Velma Hunt appeals from an order of the circuit court of Vermilion County which found her to be an unfit parent and terminated her parental rights to her two minor children. We affirm.

On September 19, 1990, petitions for adjudication of wardship were filed, alleging that J.P. and H.N. were abused and neglected minors. At the time, J.P. was five years of age and H.N. was almost 20 months. The petitions alleged that respondent had twisted J.P.'s arm as a means of punishment, she had stabbed one Benny Newsome in the presence of J.P. and H.N., and she had threatened a representative of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) with a knife in J.P.'s presence. It was also alleged that respondent had left both children at home on September 17, 1990, for the entire day without having fed them and without telling them where she would be. The petitions asked for an adjudication of wardship under section 2-3 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 37, par. 802-3). After a hearing on October 26, 1990, the trial court made findings of neglect and abuse as to both minors. On March 11, 1991, the court placed custody of the children with DCFS.

A social history report was filed with the court on January 4, 1991. This report indicated that DCFS had a long history of involvement with respondent, from age 16. After having difficulty at home, she was placed in several foster homes. A school report at that time described her as being trainable mentally handicapped. DCFS again became involved with her after J.P. was born, to assist her inlearning to care for him. Her case was closed in 1987, but was reopened in 1988 and has remained open since that time due to five indicated reports of environmental neglect, inadequate supervision, inadequate clothing and risk of physical injury, respondent's lack of cooperation with the services offered to her, and lack of progress.

The State filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights and the parental rights of the minors' putative fathers on March 30, 1992. That petition alleged respondent was an unfit parent because she had failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions which were the basis for the removal of the children from her and had failed to make reasonable progress toward return of the children to her within 12 months after they had been adjudicated neglected and abused, pursuant to section 1(D)(m) of the Adoption Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 40, par. 1501(D)(m)). The petition also alleged that respondent was unable to discharge her parental responsibilities, supported by competent evidence from a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist of mental impairment, mental illness, or mental retardation as defined in section 1-116 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 91 1/2, par. 1-116) or developmental disability as defined in section 1-106 of that Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 91 1/2, par. 1-106), and there was sufficient justification to believe such inability to discharge parental responsibilities would extend beyond a reasonable time period.

Hearings on this petition were held on March 25, 1993, and May 17, 1993. The father of J.P. voluntarily surrendered his parental rights prior to commencement of the hearing. Benny Newsome, father of H.N., failed to appear and was defaulted.

Dr. Marty Traver, a clinical psychologist, testified for the State that she interviewed respondent on September 16, 1991, for one to two hours. Respondent appeared to have good insight into her situation and that she needed to cooperate in order to get her children back. She appeared depressed and expressed suicidal ideation. She reported that she had a sixth-grade education in special education and was unable to read or write. She also reported difficulty processing time, dates, and numbers and that she had people count her money for her so that she could pay her bills. Respondent told Traver she had been involved in several violent relationships with adult men and that she had had sex at age 15 with her brothers, who were ages 3 and 13. She reported visual and auditory hallucinations, such as seeing fire in her children's eyes. This was a term Dr. Traver had heard frequently from religious fundamentalists who believe that a flame of fire in the eyes is a sign that Satan has possessed theperson. Respondent told her that she thought she had demons for babies, but denied harming her children as a result of this hallucination. She also reported feeling her bedpost shake violently when she prays, seeing God in the closet, and hearing bells ringing loudly. She also reported one time seeing a large ape with a tail staring at her through a window "like from the Bible," which she thought was a sign the world was coming to an end.

Respondent also reported she was enuretic at all times and urinated in public. She related incidents of physical and sexual abuse by family members and that she had abused herself sexually as an adolescent. Respondent also reported she drank a 12-pack of beer once a week and her boyfriend getting drunk. She denied that caused her or her children any problems, although she reported being evicted from several apartments because of her boyfriend's drunken behavior. Respondent also told Traver that she could not drive, could not take the children to the grocery store, and had to wait all day for her boyfriend to bring them food. Traver also testified that respondent admitted having a problem with anger and Traver expressed the opinion that this was a reaction to respondent's perception that people have been cruel and abusive toward her.

Traver's Conclusions were that respondent suffers from a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified. This means respondent is having psychotic episodes that do not meet criteria for any of the psychotic diseases contained in the DSM-III (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III (rev. 1987)). Respondent had all the physical actions of a schizophrenic and exhibited characteristics of bipolar manic-depressive disorder, although not enough to warrant a diagnosis. Traver also concluded that respondent had a borderline personality disorder, i.e., a persistent pattern of instability of mood and behavior. In this disorder, the person tends either to idealize or vilify people. Such a person would generally have an unstable work history (if any), unstable residence, multiple relationships, and would exhibit behaviors and stay in situations detrimental to him or her. Traver's Conclusion that respondent was mildly mentally retarded was a clinical impression, based upon her interview with respondent and the fact she could not read, had difficulty with numbers, had a sixth-grade education in special education, and how she presented herself. Traver also stated she had evaluated many people for intellectual functioning who have not been given an intelligence quotient (IQ) test. An IQ of 55 to 70 would indicate mild mental retardation. Traver also concluded respondent had an eating disorder (not otherwise specified), based upon the fact that she was obese and neither anorexic nor bulimic.

Traver testified she believed respondent would meet the definition of both mental retardation and developmental disability. Traver believed respondent's inability to discharge her parental responsibilities would extend beyond a reasonable time period, based upon the nature of her symptoms and the fact that they first occurred in her childhood. It was the combination of the retardation with the behavior disturbances that were of concern to Traver.

Traver testified respondent exhibited no auditory or visual hallucinations during the interview. Respondent suffers from affective instability, which means her moods are not stable and no one knows how she might react to situations. This was illustrated by her threatening the DCFS worker with the knife. Diagnoses of mental retardation and personality disorder are considered to be lifelong. Having these conditions alone does not make a person unable to parent. However, in respondent's case, Traver believed she was not capable of adequately and safely parenting her children because of her behavior.

Dr. Traver recommended that respondent be seen by a psychiatrist to determine whether she would benefit from medication. She also recommended that respondent receive counseling for anger control and inappropriate social behavior. Dr. Robert Talbert, a psychiatrist, examined respondent subsequently. Dr. Traver reviewed his report and testified that his Conclusions were consistent with her own. Dr. Talbert diagnosed respondent' as having a borderline mental disorder, mild mental retardation, and social deprivation. Dr. Talbert stated respondent would not benefit from counseling, but he recommended a socialization program which Dr. Traver stated was consistent with her own recommendations that counseling would be advisable to learn appropriate social behavior.

Respondent testified as to a series of residences where she had lived recently, each for a period of two weeks to three months. She was homeless for awhile after her children were taken away from her. Benny Newsome lived with her at one apartment, although he had been banned from the apartment complex. She was evicted because Newsome "tore up" her apartment. From there she moved to her sister's house, where the sister's boyfriend hit her, sending her to the hospital with a bruised back. Her sister forced her to leave the house, and respondent moved to a hotel. Her homemaker helped her to find an apartment. At the time of the hearing, she was living with a man named James Pitts. She receives supplemental security Income (SSI) benefits of $379 per month, deposited directly in her bank account, because of a kidney problem and the fact that she cannot read. She gets confused counting change and dollar bills; ...

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