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In re Faith B.

June 28, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 03-JA-47. Honorable Karen Simpson, Judge, Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Grometer

[8]  Respondent, Perseta B., appeals a series of orders of the circuit court of Kane County that resulted in placing her two minor children, Stephen B. and Faith B., in guardianships with two maternal aunts. Respondent alleges error in (1) the circuit court's decision to adjudicate the minors abused and neglected and (2) the circuit court's determination that private guardianship is an appropriate permanency goal. For the reasons that follow, we affirm. The parties are aware of the facts and the findings of the trial court, and we will discuss them only as they pertain to the issues presented.


[10]   Respondent first contests the trial court's determination that the minors were abused and neglected. We will not disturb such a determination unless it is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. In re K.S., 343 Ill. App. 3d 177, 184 (2003). In its petition for adjudication, the State set forth three bases upon which it asserted that the minors were abused or neglected. First, it alleged that the minors were neglected because of the injurious environment created by respondent's mental health issues. 705 ILCS 405/2--3(1)(b) (West 2002). Second, it alleged that they were neglected because domestic violence issues placed them at risk of harm, creating an injurious environment. 705 ILCS 405/2--3(1)(b) (West 2002). Third, it alleged that the minors were abused because respondent struck Faith in the face and Stephen in the stomach. 705 ILCS 405/2--3(2)(i) (West 2002). These findings are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if an opposite conclusion is clearly apparent. In re M.M., 337 Ill. App. 3d 764, 779 (2003). Because an opposite conclusion is not, we affirm the trial court on these points.

[11]   In addressing the first allegation, the trial court initially noted the incident in which respondent struck Faith in the face and Stephen in the stomach. The court later found respondent's testimony regarding this incident lacking in credibility. It also observed that respondent was first hospitalized in December 2002, when medical records showed a diagnosis of "delusional disorder paranoid type" and stated that bipolar disorder should be ruled out. Respondent was given Risperdal, an antipsychotic medication. A second hospitalization the following May revealed similar issues. Respondent was given Haldol and other drugs. The court then noted that, during her testimony, respondent "still presents with the same facts that she had stated to people at the hospital." The court also observed that the minors were concerned for and fearful of their mother. Accordingly, the court concluded that the State had demonstrated that respondent's mental health issues placed the minors at risk of harm. Therefore, they were neglected.

[12]   The concept of neglect based on an injurious environment is somewhat amorphous, as it must be, for each case is sui generis. In re K.G., 288 Ill. App. 3d 728, 735 (1997). Each case is unique and must be judged on its own specific facts. In re Ashley F., 265 Ill. App. 3d 419, 424 (1994). In a general sense, "neglect" can be defined as "the failure to exercise the care that circumstances justly demand and encompasses both wilful and unintentional disregard of parental duty." In re M.K., 271 Ill. App. 3d 820, 826 (1995).

[13]   The mere fact that a parent has a mental illness does not lead inevitably to the conclusion that children in his or her care are neglected or that their environment is injurious. In order for a parent's mental illness to form the basis of a finding of an injurious environment, there must be a nexus between the illness and a risk of harm to the children. Although the following cases do not address the precise issue here, as they involved terminations of parental rights, we find them instructive on these points.

[14]   Considering whether the rights of a parent were properly terminated due to the parent's mental illness, the First District observed, "The unfitness of a mentally ill parent is grounded on the parent's inability to discharge parental responsibilities, not the parent's inability to control her conduct." In re A.J., 269 Ill. App. 3d 824, 828-29 (1994). In In re T.J., 319 Ill. App. 3d 661, 670 (2001), the court stated, "Moreover, the Adoption Act required the State not only to prove that Ms. Cooper was suffering from a mental illness or impairment, but also that this mental condition rendered her unable to discharge her parental responsibilities." Similarly, it has been held that "[n]ot every parent with a psychiatric illness or condition is per se unfit to be a parent and to maintain custody of her children," for the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1 et seq. (2002)) "affects only those parents 'who cannot discharge their parental responsibilities due to these disabilities and whose inability to do so will extend beyond a reasonable period of time.' (Emphasis omitted.)" In re B.S., 317 Ill. App. 3d 650, 664 (2000), quoting In re I.D., 205 Ill. App. 3d 543, 549 (1990); see also In re M.F., 326 Ill. App. 3d 1110, 1113-15 (2002).

[15]   While the above-cited cases concern the termination of parental rights, the principle they stand for is applicable here. It is not enough for the State to show that respondent suffers from a mental illness; it must show that respondent's mental illness places the children in an injurious environment. Our review of the record indicates that the State met this burden. Most significantly, one violent episode occurred where respondent struck Faith in the face and Stephen in the stomach. Respondent told a caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) that she was disciplining Faith because Faith was "mouthing off." On appeal, she attempts to characterize her actions as appropriate corporal punishment. However, the trial court specifically found respondent's account not credible, noting that her explanation of this incident had changed and that, at trial, respondent testified that she accidentally struck Faith. Credibility assessments lie within the province of the trial court. In re D.L., 326 Ill. App. 3d 262, 269 (2001).

[16]   Respondent also attempts to characterize this incident as isolated. Relying on In re N.B., 191 Ill. 2d 338 (2000), respondent contends that "one isolated outburst of anger is not neglect." However, In re N.B. is distinguishable. In that case, there was no evidence that the children were exposed to any form of violence. See In re N.B., 191 Ill. 2d at 347-49. The sole incident in which the respondent's conduct posed a risk of physical harm to her children involved her swinging her baby carrier as she turned, which caused the carrier to strike a wall. In fact, in that case, the supreme court specifically distinguished In re M.K., 271 Ill. App. 3d 820 (1995), on this ground, stating that "there is no proof in this case that [the] respondent ever exposed her children to any source of physical abuse." In re N.B., 191 Ill. 2d at 352-53. Similarly, the instant case is distinguishable from In re N.B. because, here, a violent episode occurred where respondent intentionally struck both of her children. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the incident may not be as significant in itself as it is probative of the potentially violent nature of respondent's mental illness.

[17]   Additional evidence supports the trial court's determination. Respondent has been hospitalized and prescribed various psychoactive medications. Respondent acknowledged that she no longer takes them and stated that she does need help. She refused to sign a safety plan crafted by DCFS. During a status hearing, she stated, "I am refusing to go to Provena. *** If that means that I lose my kids, well, then, we can do that today, because I will never go back there ever again." DCFS employees reported aggressive and belligerent conduct on respondent's part. On the witness stand, she made a number of delusional statements. The minors stated that they feel safer residing with their aunts.

[18]   In sum, ample evidence exists regarding respondent's mental illness. Furthermore, the record shows a nexus between the illness and a risk of harm in the minor's environment, in light of respondent's act of violence and the minors' own testimony regarding their feeling of safety. Given this evidence, we cannot say that a conclusion opposite to that drawn by the trial court was clearly apparent; therefore, we cannot say that the trial court's decision was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. In re April C., 345 Ill. App. 3d 872, 889 (2004).

[19]   The same evidence supports the trial court's determination regarding the second and third allegations made by the State. We simply cannot say that it is clearly apparent that domestic abuse issues do not exist where respondent has demonstrated a potential for violence toward her children and is not addressing the cause of that violence. Nor can we say that the finding that the children were abused is against the manifest weight ...

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