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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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July 14, 2003

NAMI is grateful to Senator Collins (R-ME) for her leadership in addressing the tragedy of custody relinquishment

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs -- chaired by Senator Collins (R-ME) -- is holding two days of hearings on July 15 and 17 to address custody relinquishment – the national tragedy of states forcing families to turn custody of their child over to the state to secure mental health services.

NAMI applauds Senator Collins for her leadership on this issue that has long been of great concern to NAMI. Senator Collins is not new to this issue; she joined Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Pete Stark (D-CA), in requesting that the General Accounting Office (GAO) investigate and report on this unthinkable practice.

The Senate hearings – titled Nowhere to Turn: Must Parents Relinquish Custody in Order to Secure Mental Health Services for Their Children? Part 1: Families and Advocates and Part 2: Government Response – will include one day of testimony from three families who have faced the prospect of giving up custody of their child to secure mental health services. Part 1 of the hearing will also include testimony from family advocates and policy experts on this issue. NAMI arranged for two families -- from Arkansas and Illinois – to testify during Part 1 of the hearing.

Part 2 and the second day of the hearing will include testimony from government agencies on custody relinquishment – including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Senator Collins (R-ME), who chairs the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs – has been a true leader in addressing this troubling practice of states and local communities forcing families to give up custody of their children with mental illnesses to secure necessary treatment. The General Accounting Office (GAO) report, which comes in response to the leadership of 3 key members of Congress – Senator Collins and Representatives Pete Stark (D-CA) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) -- can be accessed on the GAO web site at www.gao.govNAMI issued an ENews in response to the GAO report and the practice of states forcing families to abandon children for mental health services.

The GAO report supports the NAMI landmark study Families on the Brink: The Impact of Ignoring Children with Serious Mental Illness, published in 1999, in which 20% of families surveyed reported having to give up custody of their children with mental illnesses to the state in exchange for adequate treatment.

Senator Collins has expressed her intent to introduce federal legislation to address this unthinkable practice. NAMI looks forward to working with Senator Collins and other Congressional leaders to develop solutions to this national tragedy and will provide updates and request grass roots action when the federal legislation is introduced.

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