Lawsuit Alleges Los Angeles County, State ‘Knowingly Failed’ To Provide Mental Health Care for Foster Children
Los Angeles County and the state for years have "knowingly failed" to provide preventive mental health services to foster children in violation of federal law, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and five public interest law firms, the Los Angeles Times reports. The lawsuit cites the cases of five foster children, some of whom had disabilities in addition to mental health problems. According to the lawsuit, the children never received proper assessment for mental health problems nor adequate mental health services from the county. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the county moved the children among "dozens of homes and hospitals." Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said that the county places foster children with "severe" mental and behavioral problems in "restrictive" group homes, despite agreement among mental health experts that the facilities "do more harm than good." Rosenbaum added that "intensive" preventive mental health services "are not only more successful, but also cheaper." The lawsuit alleges that the county and state have violated federal Medicaid law, which requires state Medicaid programs to provide certain services to children. Most foster children qualify in the state for Medi-Cal, which would cover "almost all" of the cost. The lawsuit also alleges that the county for years has "known about the problems" with mental health services for foster children but has not addressed the concerns.
Some county officials said that they have made "slow progress" in their efforts to provide mental health services to foster children outside of psychiatric hospitals and group homes. For example, pilot programs to treat children in the county only reach a few hundred foster children. Marv Southard, director of the county Department of Mental Health, added that foster children often do not receive "sufficient mental health services" because the county does not have a "systemic approach" to assess their mental health problems. He said, "The average [foster] kid would get mental health services not as a preventive measure but only when they started having problems." County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said that the lawsuit highlights a "very serious concern," adding, "We need to have an accelerated program to address the needs of children in our care" (Larubbia, Los Angeles Times, 7/19).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.