California Mental Health System for Children in ‘Disarray,’ Report Finds
California's mental health system for "disturbed" children has "fail[ed] dismally," as a lack of oversight and continuity of care has led many young people with mental illnesses to drop out of schools and "crowd" costly jails and mental hospitals, according to a report released yesterday. The Little Hoover Commission, a "bipartisan watchdog agency" that conducts studies for the governor and the Legislature, found that 600,000 of the more than one million California children who will experience a behavioral or emotional disorder this year "will not receive adequate treatment," the Los Angeles Times reports. The report found that the system is adequately funded -- the state will spend $56 billion in 2002 on child and family mental health systems. However, the system is "in disarray" and is an "expensive patchwork of social, health and educational services that frequently overlap and present a bewildering maze to families in need of help." For instance, "no single agency" oversees the system, and "various eligibility requirements" preclude continuity of care for children as they age and move through the system. Moreover, according to the report, more than 50,000 children in the state's foster care system may need mental services but do not receive them, while countless others in the juvenile justice system go without treatment. Failing to provide adequate mental health services for these children comes at a price: according to the report, 200 children per month stay in state mental hospitals at a cost of more than $10,000 per child, while county juvenile detention facilities "spend about $3,500 to house a child for a 27-day stay." Children "endure a system that turns them away until their needs are severe," Little Hoover Chair Michael Alpert said.
While not commenting directly on the report, Bertha Gorman, a spokesperson for the Department of Health Services, said that Gov. Gray Davis (D) had funded "several new initiatives this year." She said, "There is a commitment to provide the best care possible to mentally ill children and adults." Still, the report found many areas for improvement. It recommended that the state:
- provide "all families," not just those with low incomes, access to publicly funded mental health care;
- eliminate "duplication and gaps in services";
- create a cabinet-level Secretary for Children Services; and
- address the "acute shortage of qualified mental health specialists" (Rivera, Los Angeles Times, 10/18).
This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.