Children in State Custody Receive ‘Inadequate’ Mental Health Care, GAO Report Says
Many of the thousands of children who were turned over by their parents to child welfare or juvenile justice systems so they could obtain mental health services have not received adequate care, according to a General Accounting Office report, the New York Times reports. More than 12,700 children in 19 states have been turned over by their parents to state institutions such as foster homes, state mental hospitals and juvenile jails to receive mental health care. The total number of children turned over to state custody likely is higher because 31 states did not respond to the GAO survey or could not provide data, according to GAO official Cornelia Ashby. GAO officials said that they found "deplorable conditions" in many state institutions where children were sent for mental health treatment, including "significant and wide-ranging deficiencies in patient care" at Metropolitan State Hospital in California and "unhealthy, inhumane and unlawful" conditions at two state training schools in Mississippi, the Times reports. Nora Romero, a spokesperson for the California Department of Mental Health, said the department disagreed with portions of the GAO report but is taking steps to improve children's mental health care. According to the Times, the Mississippi Department of Human Services said it would work with the state Department of Mental Health to help children diagnosed with mental health issues at school.
According to the report, parents with private health insurance have difficulty paying for mental health services for children with severe mental illnesses because many private plans set "stricter limits" on mental health coverage than they do for physical illnesses, the Times reports. "One outpatient therapy session can cost more than $100, and residential treatment facilities, which provide 24 hours of care seven days a week, can cost $250,000 a year or more," Ashby said. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) added, "Custody relinquishment is a symptom of a much larger problem: the lack of available, affordable mental health services for these children and their families." Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said that he is working with Collins on a bill that would stop what he called a "barbaric practice." Under the bill, states would receive $55 million in federal grants to improve services for mentally ill children to reduce the number of parents relinquishing custody to obtain treatment for their children (Pear, New York Times, 9/1).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.