Mental Instability May Not Preclude Parenting

Mother [M] and Father [F] were high school sweethearts. They never married but lived together and had two children together Son [S] (born in December 2000) and Daughter [D] (born in December 2004).

In 2016, The Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS] received a complaint that M had abused her daughter. According to the referral, M had opened the refrigerator to retrieve a carton of milk. She immediately began screaming that the milk was poisoned and people were trying to poison her. Although F, S, and D, tried to explain that no one was trying to poison anyone, M became more agitated and began throwing objects. One object she threw hit D’s arm – the reason for the alleged abuse. F contacted the police when he S and D could not calm M down. The police arrived and F explained that M had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was now off her meds. The police took her to a psychiatric hospital for a 72-hour observation hold.

According to records, M began having schizophrenic episodes in 2013. She spent six months in a psychiatric ward and was stabilized with medication. Unfortunately, a few years later, she stopped taking her medications because she thought F was trying to poison her with them. Further, beside her mental issues, M is hearing impaired and afraid to be alone.

During its investigation, DCFS was informed by both S and D that they loved their mother; they did not fear her; and that she never threatened them. Yes, M threw things, but not at anyone. It was merely a coincidence that D got hit – and very minorly. DCFS found the home environment clean, the children were doing well in school and were in support groups at school. Further, M was never alone with the children. Either F was there or F’s mother, who lived with them. Still, DCFS determined that M was a threat to the children and removed them from the family home.

DCFS filed its report with the juvenile court alleging that M “has mental and emotional problems, including delusional behavior, which render [her] unable to provide regular care of the children. On prior occasions in 2016, [she] was hospitalized for the evaluation and treatment of [her] psychiatric condition. On prior occasions, [she] failed to take [her] psychotropic medication as prescribed. [F] knew of [M’s] mental and emotional problems and [he] failed to protect the children. [F] allowed [M] to reside in the children’s home and have unlimited access to the children. Such mental and emotional condition on the part of [M] and [F’s] failure to protect the children endanger the children’s physical health and safety, create a detrimental home environment and place the children at risk of serious physical harm, damage, danger and failure to protect.” DCFS requested M remain away from the family, that she get psychiatric help, and that she be re-evaluated in six months. The juvenile court judge agreed with DCFS and ordered M stay away from the family home and that DCFS provide her with psychiatric help and the rest of the family with family support. M appealed the decision.

The Appellate Court agreed with M stating: “Although there is no question that [M] has mental health issues, the law is settled that harm may not be presumed from the mere fact of a parent’s mental illness.” The Appellate Court held that the children had suffered no harm from M and DCFS failed to show that the children were in any immediate danger from her. In fact, just the opposite; the family had been living with M’s condition for years and there had never been any danger to the children. The family’s current situation had not changed.

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