This August, Governor Pat Quinn signed and put into effect Senate Bill 2909 and House Bill 5598, with the purpose of strengthening Illinois child protective services and providing more help to parents who have children suffering from serious mental health issues. The new bills amend the Children and Family Services Act, and permit parents to seek the services of the State when dealing with children who have serious mental illnesses or emotional disturbances, without having to terminate their parental rights in the absence of any type of abuse or neglect. The new law allows parents, who may no longer be able to care for their child because of a mental illness or emotional disturbance, to relinquish their child to the Department of Children and Family Services so that the child may receive the utmost care that his or her parent is unable to provide.
Purpose of the Amendment
The purpose of the Bill is two-fold: one, it is a constitutional right of the parent to maintain legal custody of his or her children, and the State has a substantial burden to prove that the parent’s parental rights should be terminated. Secondly, the State wants to limit the number of children who become wards of the State due to the incredible costs associated with the care of the children within the welfare system. If a child requires treatment for his or her developmental disabilities or mental health illness it should have no bearing on the ability of the parent to adequately care for his or her child. It is not within the child’s best interest to be relinquished by his or her parents just because the parents cannot afford proper mental health treatment.
The Bill, itself, provides a financial remedy for parents whose private insurance does not cover the costs of mental health treatment and for parents who do not qualify for Medicaid.
Provisions of the Amendment
The Bill outlines the terms of the new amendments to the Act, and permits the parent or legal guardian to transfer temporary physical custody of the child to the Department so that he or she can undergo necessary treatment. Also, the Department, pursuant to the new amendment, would not be able to request or require that legal custody of the child be transferred permanently to the Department. In addition, the Department would not be permitted to terminate parental rights if there was no evidence to conclude that abuse or neglect was present.
For the child to remain out of the home and in the care of the Department for more than 180 days, the Bill requires a juvenile court to make a finding that treatment, lasting beyond 180 days, is in the best interests of the child and should thus remain within the care of the Department.
Protection of Children with Mental Health Illnesses in Illinois
The need for this type of Bill is obvious when reviewing the number of children (and adults) who suffer from mental health issues and require treatment in Illinois. In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune, there has been an increase in the number of children and adults who are requiring mental health services and treatment. In Lake County, for example, more than 4,700 adults and children in 2013 received treatment and care for mental health illness and emotional disturbances. Between 2010 and 2011, approximately 1,210 children used the Lake County Health Department’s crisis services. More than 1,500 children used the services in 2012.
Protection of Your Parental Rights
Parental rights are constitutionally protected and may not be terminated with great cause. If you are involved in a legal situation where your parental rights may be compromised, please contact the experienced DuPage County family law attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC for guidance and information on how to protect your family and access to your children.
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