Member Groups

Mental Health Matters
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Mental Health Law Section

October 2018, vol. 5, no. 1

Mental illness and parenting

A recent second district case, In re K.E.S., 2018 IL App (2d) 170907, makes it clear that the fact that a parent may be living with a serious mental illness does not mean that this parent is unfit or unable to parent their children.

The state filed a petition, alleging that K.E.S. was a dependent minor, because her mother was hospitalized for her mental illness, and thus, the minor was without proper care. They also alleged neglect by reason of an injurious environment because the mother and the minor were involved in a car accident, at a time when the mother had been driving erratically and her mental illness was not well controlled The mother stipulated that the minor was dependent and neglected at the time the petition had been filed.

After an adjudication of abuse, neglect, or dependency, the court must hold a dispositional hearing, usually within 30 days, to determine what needs to be done in light of its findings. In this case, over 6 months had passed since the car accident. The mother had been hospitalized once, a few months after her initial inpatient psychiatric hospitalization, in order to get her stabilized on her medication. It was a voluntary admission. The mother’s counselor testified at the dispositional hearing that she had been seeing the mother every two weeks for three months, that she was compliant with her medication, was doing well, and so long as she continued to take her medication and attend counseling, she was stable enough to resume parenting K.E.S., who had been in foster care until the dispositional hearing could take place.

The mother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. DCFS noted that the mother’s home was clean and appropriate, that she had support, and that her visits with K.E.S. went well. Witnesses at the dispositional hearing also testified that the mother had complied with all of the services contained in her DCFS service plan. The mother also testified that she realized that K.E.S. would benefit from continued contact with his foster mother and that she would be willing to allow her to continue to see the foster mother and also would agree to a gradual return home.

The judge, however, found the mother to be an unfit parent, saying that she “suffers from severe mental health issues” and that these issues “prohibit her from properly caring for the child at this time.” The judge did acknowledge, however, that the mother had made progress since the case had been initiated months earlier.
At the dispositional hearing the state had the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the mother was unfit. But the second district found that at the time of the dispositional hearing, none of the evidence showed that the mother was unfit or unable to care for K.E.S. or that the child’s safety or wellbeing would be in jeopardy if she were returned home to her mother. While the reviewing court understood the trial court’s concerns about whether or not the mother would continue to comply with her mental health treatment, the Court noted that this concern would be true of any parent with a mental illness and held that the possibility that it could happen does not, by itself, render a parent unfit. Nor does the fact that a parent has a serious mental illness, by itself, render that parent unfit.


Susan O’Neal is a senior attorney with Equip for Equality in Springfield. She can be contacted at susan@equipforequality.org