In 1999, NAMI released a report, entitled Families on the Brink: the Impact of Ignoring Children with Serious Mental Illness, which revealed that 20% of families surveyed reported having to give up custody of their children with mental illnesses in order to secure services for them.
The causes of this national scandal are attributable to inadequate and fragmented mental health systems and services for youth who suffer from serious mental illnesses. Across the country, the failure of mental health systems to respond to children and adolescents with serious mental illnesses has forced hundreds of thousands of these youth into juvenile justice systems or child welfare systems, neither of which is equipped to address their needs. It has also forced families to face the unthinkable - giving up their children in order to get them services.
This week, the Governmental Affairs Committee of the U.S. Senate, Chaired by Senator Susan Collins (R. ME), is holding two hearings on this national tragedy. The first of these two hearings took place this morning, Tuesday, July 15, 2003, and featured a number of compelling witnesses, including two mothers testifying in behalf of NAMI, Patricia Cooper of Arkansas, and Cynthia Yonan of Illinois. Both of these families have endured long and painful struggles to find services for their children, including being told that they would have to give up custody of their children in order to secure services for them.
Families and communities are in crisis. For years, advocates have been calling for fundamental change in child mental health systems. They want action now. Senator Collins and several of her colleagues in the House of Representatives, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D. RI) and Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D. CA), are determined to introduce legislation to find solutions.
Later this week, at a second hearing, the Committee will convene leaders of federal agencies overseeing mental health, education and juvenile justice to discuss what these solutions should be. Three members of the Committee, Senator Collins, Senator Dick Durbin (D. Illinois) and Senator Mark Pryor (D. Arkansas) were present at this morning's hearing. Our immediate goal is to convince more members of the Committee to attend the second hearing, on Thursday, July 17, at 9:30 AM, to build momentum for change.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is comprised of the following members: Susan Collins, Chair (R. ME), Ted Stevens (R. AK), George Voinovich (R. OH), Norm Coleman (R. MN), Arlen Specter (R. PA), Robert Bennett (R. UT), Peter Fitzgerald (R. IL), John Sununu (R. NH), Richard Shelby (R. AL), Joseph Lieberman (D. CT), Carl Levin (D. MI), Daniel Akaka (D. HI), Richard Durbin (D. IL), Thomas Carper (D. DE), Mark Dayton (D. MN), Frank Lautenberg (D. NJ), and Mark Pryor (D. AR).
If your Senator is on the Committee, please contact his or her Office through the Capitol Switchboard, 1-800-839-5276, urge them to attend the hearing entitled "Nowhere to Turn: Must Parents Relinquish Custody in Order to Secure Mental Health Services for Their Children" on Thursday, July 17th, at 9:30 AM, and further urge them to support federal solutions to the tragedy of custody relinquishment.
Thank you for your advocacy!
For more information about the hearings and related information about custody relinquishment, visit the NAMI homepage, www.nami.org.