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Children and Mental Illness

November 21, 2008

TIME magazine reports that Nebraska's child-abandonment law has revealed an urgent need to improve mental health services for children.

Most states allow a parent to leave an infant at a fire station or hospital without fear of prosecution, but Nebraska’s law currently does not define the age of a child. Parents have dropped off 34 children at Omaha hospitals since September and while none of the children were infants, a majority of the kids abandoned had a history of mental illness.

A revealing 90% of the parents or guardians had sought state services before abandoning their children. Some overwhelmed parents who cannot access mental health services for their children, due to factors such as limited numbers of child psychiatrists, facilities and restricted insurance coverage, are reluctantly abandoning their children as a last resort to get their kids help.

Legislation has been pending in Congress to avoid “custody relinquishment” in which states also often force parents to give up custody in order to get treatment for their children.

Additional Resources:

Government Accountability Office: Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Keeping Families Together Act

Safe Haven or Last Resort?

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