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People v. Rhonda S.

November 08, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. 94 JA 4246, 94 JA 4247 and 94 JA 4248 Honorable Carol McCarthy, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Wolfson

In this case portions of Rhonda S's difficult life were recreated in a courtroom through testimony and documents. When the hearing ended, the trial court found her to be an unfit parent and terminated her parental rights to Bradley S. (born May 9, 1988), Randall S. (born June 15, 1989), and Briana S. (born August 25, 1992). Then the trial court appointed a guardian with the power to consent to adoption of the three children. Rhonda S. appeals those orders. We affirm.


The record shows that Rhonda began using marijuana in 1981, when she was 21 years old. Shortly after, Rhonda had her first psychotic break. Rhonda was hospitalized and diagnosed a schizophrenic. Her drug usage, according to doctors, precipitated and/or exacerbated Rhonda's mental condition.

Since 1981, constants in Rhonda's life have been illegal drug use and psychotic episodes. A psychiatric evaluation completed by Forensic Clinical Services and dated December 12, 1996, tells us that by 1986 Rhonda had been hospitalized privately twice and in a state facility (Tinley Park Mental Health Center) three times. A comprehensive psychiatric evaluation by MacFarland Mental Health Center, dated July 12, 1989, states: "[T]his is the third MacFarland hospitalization for [Rhonda]." In every case, hospitalization has come after Rhonda stopped taking her prescribed medication, but continued regular use of marijuana and other drugs, ignoring repeated doctors' warnings that marijuana exacerbates her mental illness.

In May 1988, Rhonda became involved with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) after the birth of her first son, Bradley. During her pregnancy, Rhonda stopped taking her prescribed medications. Rhonda then began experiencing hallucinations. After Bradley's birth, Rhonda voluntarily placed him in temporary foster care while she was hospitalized. On June 21, 1988, Bradley was made a ward of the court, but Rhonda was allowed to retain custody of Bradley. He was returned to her after her release from the hospital. DCFS, however, remained in close contact with Rhonda. Besides having home visits from her caseworker, Rhonda received homemaker services three times each week so she could learn how to care for Bradley. Rhonda also received regular visits from her mental health worker.

On June 15, 1989, Rhonda gave birth to her second son, Randall. Again, Rhonda discontinued her medications during her pregnancy and, as a result, suffered acute schizophrenic symptoms. She voluntarily placed both of her children in foster care while she was re-hospitalized.

On July 6, 1989, Rhonda left the hospital. She insisted on leaving, though she still was having delusions. Four days later, she went to the emergency room and was admitted to MacFarland on July 11, 1989. She stayed at MacFarland until September 28, 1989. During this stay, Rhonda told the doctors she had been using marijuana regularly since the age of 23. Just prior to her admission to the hospital in July 1989, she said, she had been smoking marijuana daily, several times throughout the day.

On October 26, 1989, Bradley and Randall were adjudged dependent. Because Rhonda did not have the capacity to care for two children, only Randall was returned to her custody. In just 7 weeks, however - on December 15th - Randall was returned to foster care because Rhonda was unable to meet the infant's needs. On December 28, 1989, both Bradley and Randall were adjudicated wards of the court and placed in DCFS' custody and guardianship.

In 1990, Rhonda appeared to be making progress toward the return of her children until October 1990, when she relapsed into schizophrenia and began experiencing hallucinations. She required hospitalization through November and December 1990. Once again, Rhonda told doctors about her regular and excessive use of marijuana.

After her release from the hospital in December, Rhonda's overall compliance with DCFS improved. She cooperated with her mental health professionals, began taking her medication regularly, and participated in parenting classes. Due to Rhonda's progress, visitations with her two boys were increased over the first 5 months of 1991. Rhonda appeared ready to have her children back. Bradley then was returned to Rhonda's custody on June 8, 1991, and Randall was returned to Rhonda's custody on September 28, 1991. Later, DCFS guardianship of the boys was vacated.

In 1991, Rhonda became pregnant for the third time. On August 25, 1992, she gave birth to Briana. Briana's father is Tyrone James, a drug abuser and suspected drug dealer. *fn1 In an intake fact sheet for Haymarket, dated July 14, 1995, Rhonda reported she began using crack cocaine in 1991. In that fact sheet she rated cocaine as her number one drug of choice, followed by marijuana. We note, however, in a substance abuse assessment dated August 1989, Rhonda reported she had used cocaine, at the urging of a boyfriend, on three occasions in 1985, when she was 25 years old.

On September 6, 1992, shortly after Briana's birth, Rhonda placed all three children in foster care. She then voluntarily signed herself into the hospital because she was experiencing schizophrenic symptoms.

On October 7, 1992, DCFS filed petitions alleging Bradley S., Randall S., and Briana S., were dependent minors pursuant to section 2-4 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/2-4 (West 1992)), because their mother could not provide them proper care due to her mental disability.

Rhonda left the hospital against her doctor's recommendation on October 23, 1992. She did not ask to have the children returned to her. She told her DCFS worker she "wasn't ready" and might not be "ready" for 6 months or more.

On November 24, 1992, all three children were adjudged dependent and, on December 23, all three children were adjudicated wards of the court and placed in the custody and guardianship of DCFS.

Rhonda re-entered the MacFarland Mental Health facility on January 19, 1993. She refused to take medications while at the hospital and signed herself out on January 27, 1993, even though she was still experiencing hallucinations. A discharge summary prepared by MacFarland Mental Health Center states: "[Rhonda] will need to continue to work with DCFS in regards to her children. She is not capable at this time of caring for her children. In fact, she will have a big enough chore to manage care of her own self."

After leaving the hospital in January 1993, Rhonda began living with a man she met at a bus stop. Rhonda allowed her apartment to be used as a brothel and prostituted herself to obtain money for cocaine and marijuana.

In July 1993, Rhonda regained custody of her two older children based on the recommendation of Rhonda's psychiatrist, Dr. Sarma. The boys remained with Rhonda only 4 months - until November 1993 - when they were returned to the custody of DCFS because Rhonda admitted hitting Randall with a belt, leaving bruises.

After November 1993, Rhonda did little to demonstrate to DCFS an improvement in her ability to provide appropriate care for the children. Though Rhonda saw her therapist and took her medications for a few months, while she stayed with her father in Chicago from November 1993 through April 1994, by May 1994 she returned to her former way of life. She moved out of her father's home, started using cocaine again, and prostituted herself for money.

In August 1994, Rhonda had to be admitted to Jackson Park Hospital because she was experiencing paranoid delusions. She stayed there four weeks. She then transferred to Lydia Health Care Center, where she stayed until April 1995. In April 1995, Rhonda became extremely ill. She was hospitalized at Our Lady of the Resurrection Hospital from April 6-14, 1995, in a diabetic coma.

After leaving this hospital, Rhonda was unable to maintain any permanent residence - she shifted between stays with her sister, her father, at shelters, at recovery centers, or at motels. In July 1995, she stayed for one week at the Haymarket recovery center. She told Haymarket staff she smoked marijuana three times per day and used cocaine four times per month.

After Haymarket, Rhonda was admitted to Jackson Park Hospital for two days, and then was released to a Catholic Charities shelter where she stayed for two to three weeks. In August 1995, Rhonda returned to Springfield, even though her children were in foster care in Chicago. On September 15, 1995, Rhonda was admitted to MacFarland Mental Health Center. The admission report states:

"While [Rhonda] is very sincere, she lacks awareness of the chaotic and destructive pattern of living since her last discharge in January 1993 *** her actions and circumstances do not suggest that getting her kids back is likely in the near future."

Rhonda was released from MacFarland on December 1, 1995, but was re-admitted later in the month and stayed until February 1996. After leaving MacFarland, Rhonda first lived with her mother, then in Section 8 housing, then with Tyrone James.

As part of her service plan, Rhonda was to make monthly urine drops. In May 1996, Rhonda tested positive for cocaine and cannabis. She failed to show up for her monthly urine drops in June and July. She later admitted using drugs while living with Tyrone from April to August 1996.

On April 1, 1996, DCFS filed supplemental petitions on behalf of Rhonda's three children, for the appointment of a guardian with the right to consent to adoption. In the petitions it was alleged Rhonda was "unfit," as that term is defined in section 1(D) of the Adoption Act. 750 ILCS 50/1(D) (West 1996). Specifically, it was alleged Rhonda: (1) failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the children's welfare; (2) was a habitual drunkard or addicted to drugs, other than those prescribed by a physician, for at least one year immediately prior to the commencement of the unfitness proceedings; (3) failed to make reasonable efforts to correct conditions which were the basis for the removal of the children and/or failed to make reasonable progress toward the return of the children, within 12 months after the children were adjudicated dependent; and (4) was unable to discharge her parental responsibilities due to mental ...

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