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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Support the Keeping Families Together Act

February 15, 2005

NAMI strongly supports the Keeping Families Together Act (S 1704/HR 3243 in the 108th Congress – the bill number has not yet been assigned in the 109th Congress), bipartisan and bicameral supported federal legislation designed to help stop the scandal that has lingered too long in states across our nation, one in which parents are forced to give up custody of their child with a mental illness to secure vitally necessary treatment. NAMI applauds the Senate and House leaders who reintroduced this legislation on Feb. 15, 2005, for standing up for children, families and common sense. Custody relinquishment must end in our nation.

President Bush’s New Freedom Commission highlighted custody relinquishment in their 2003 report documenting the crisis in our country’s mental health system. Also, the U.S. General Accounting Office released a report in April 2003 – documenting that thousands of families across the country are forced to give up custody of their child to the child welfare and juvenile justice systems to secure mental health services.

The Keeping Families Together Act seeks to keep children with mental illnesses and in need of services at home and in their communities, most importantly with their families -- through three basic mechanisms – a grant program, the establishment of a federal interagency task force and a statutory correction to Medicaid:

  • The grant program provides financial incentives to states to build effective systems of care for children with mental illnesses and their families. The existing system of care for children in most states places a heavy emphasis on costly residential services;
  • This legislation requires states to provide matching funds over the six year period of the grant program, while also requiring states to develop a plan that brings together state child-serving agencies, parents and other key stakeholders;
  • The legislation establishes a federal interagency task force – with SAMHSA as the lead agency -- to examine and make recommendations related to improving mental health and child-serving systems;
  • This legislation removes statutory barriers that currently prevent more states from using the Section 1915 (c) Medicaid home-and community-based service waiver (HCBW) to serve children with mental illnesses;
  • It helps to eliminate a cruel choice that thousands of parents have faced – accessing mental health treatment or retaining custody of their child. Parents who choose desperately needed treatment and lose custody also lose the right to make day-to-day decisions in their child’s life. Children, who are already suffering from a serious illness, are left feeling abandoned in their hour of greatest need.

This legislation was re-introduced by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) along with original co-sponsors of the legislation, Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). Representative Jim Ramstad (R-MN) will re-introduce the bill in the House of Representatives, joined by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), Pete Stark (D-CA) and other original co-sponsors.

Action Needed

NAMI urges you to contact your Congressional representatives, if they are not listed above, and ask for their support of this legislation. All House and Senate offices can be reached through the Capital switchboard at 202-224-3121 (please note that this is not a toll-free call). Senators and House members can also be reached at their local offices that are listed in the Blue Pages of your local phone directory.

We must end the unthinkable practice of forcing parents to choose between their child and accessing vitally necessary mental health treatment. We would not think of asking the parents of a child with other serious illnesses like cancer or diabetes, to give up custody of their child to access treatment. It is simply wrong to do so with a child with a mental illness.

For more information please contact: Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Child and Adolescent Action Center at 703-516-7965 or darcy@nami.org, January 2005

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