National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy
Children with Mental Health Needs in the Child Welfare System
Diane Smith Howard
In the Fall of 2013, the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), the membership organization for the national network of protection and advocacy programs (the P&As) surveyed its members about their work with children and youth with disabilities who are wards of the state. What we found was a very disturbing pattern of mistreatment of these children, particularly children with mental health and intellectual disabilities. Although often referred to as “foster children”, as we learned, this may be a misnomer when applied to children with disabilities, because they are often housed in institutional settings, not foster homes. NDRN produced a report on this topic in November 2013 entitled “Foster Despair” which is attached.
When we researched this issue, we were struck by how little has been written about these children and how little data has been collected about their plight. However, the P&As have been serving these children in large numbers for years, advocating for their placement in less restrictive settings, for quality education, and appropriate mental health treatment. We had intended the focus of the survey to be on the educational needs of these children, but what we found when we prepared the report was far more than educational deprivation, as if that weren’t concerning enough. In 2014 we are still hearing that children, who have been removed from the home due to no fault of their own, are being placed in settings designed for individuals with completely different needs, due to lack of placement/service options. For example, children with disabilities who have not broken any laws are placed in juvenile justice facilities because there are no other open beds. We learned that loving parents are still being required give up guardianship to the state in order to obtain publicly funded services for their children. Hundreds of youth from one state are being placed in out-of-state residential facilities, which makes it nearly impossible for their parents to visit them.
The findings of the report that are specific to education are equally concerning. By definition, these are children whose parents cannot move them to another school if they do not like the education provided -- they are trapped in a system with no other options but what the state provides. In the course of our investigation, we learned that education deprivation is still used as punishment for disability related behaviors in some facilities, and of long term failure to provide access to educational credit to all children housed in state run residential facilities. This means that when the children return to public school, if they do, they have lost credit for all of the work they did while in the facility. We heard of cases in which IEP/504 services are not individualized; that are capped, absent, or limited due to budget constraints. (“We just do not provide speech therapy here.”). We learned of children removed from their homes because of specific service needs who were placed in settings that, as a rule, do not provide services required to meet those needs. The list goes on and on.
In this session, NDRN Senior Staff Attorney Diane Smith Howard will review the findings of the report and other sources on the topic, provide specific suggestions for advocacy on behalf of these youth to ensure their placement in the least restrictive environment with appropriate services, and make recommendations for changes to policy, procedure, law and regulation to improve conditions for these vulnerable children and youth.
Goals and Objectives
1. Participants will have an overview and understanding of the findings of the report and other sources on the topic on the issues surrounding children’s mental health issues in the child welfare system.
2. Learn specific suggestions for advocacy on behalf of these youth to ensure their placement in the least restrictive environment with appro0priate services.
3. Have knowledge and understanding of recommendations for changes to policy, procedure, law, and regulation to improve conditions for these vulnerable children and youth.
Link to brief presenter bio:
Diane Smith Howard