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Families Forced To Relinquish Custody, Lose Children To Juvenile Jails Due To Pervasive Lack Of Basic Treatments, Services, Educational Programs
Chicago, IL - The results of a new national survey of American families who have children with severe mental illnesses reveal that nearly one in five of the parents surveyed were forced to give up their children because they couldn't afford to pay for much-needed treatments and services.
Released at the annual convention of the National Alliance for Mentally Ill (NAMI), the report also found that more than one-third of survey respondents (36 percent) said their children were in the juvenile justice system because mental health services were unavailable. Even when their children received psychiatric treatment, they were treated inappropriately or abusively. Twenty-two percent of the families reported that their children were subjected to physical restraint or seclusion, and 13 percent to 15 percent were physically or sexually abused.
Conducted for NAMI by the Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, Families on the Brink: The Impact of Ignoring Children With Serious Mental Illness documents a shameful pattern of neglect and complacency, with families barely surviving under the strain of early-onset mental illness.
"These findings paint a dire picture," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "Families struggle on the brink of disaster, facing unimaginable, but very real risks of family dissolution, financial bankruptcy, wrongful imprisonment, or giving up custody of children just to get them treatment."
An estimated 7.5 million children (12 percent of all children under age 18) have mental disorders, nearly half of which lead to serious disability. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 19 years, a rate that has tripled since 1960. "While national awareness of the pressures our kids face today has been raised in the wake of recent school violence," said Flynn, "the far greater difficulties children with serious mental illnesses and their families confront each day, every year, are being overlooked. They are trapped inside a system of horrors."
Other Major Survey Findings:
"The report gives voice to tremendous suffering, it is cause for sadness and outrage," said Flynn. "Not only must parents try to comprehend why their child has a brain disorder, but they also find themselves having to fight for medical attention, school system support, and acceptance from neighbors and friends."
NAMI's Call To Action
NAMI calls for a national commitment and comprehensive policy agenda to ensure that children and adolescents with serious mental illnesses receive the treatment and services they desperately need. "As a nation, we must close the gaps in scientific understanding, screening and treatment, and remove unethical barriers to needed care and services," Flynn said.
Families on the Brink: The Impact of Ignoring Children with Serious Mental Illness is the first national survey to examine family views of the availability of treatments and services, as well as difficulties encountered in caring for children with severe mental illnesses.
From October 1998 through February 1999, researchers received and reviewed mailed or electronic surveys completed by families or primary caregivers from all 50 states, representing the experience of 903 children and teenagers with serious mental illnesses. In May 1998, researchers conducted focus groups with families in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma; in Bethesda, Maryland; and in Portland and Eugene, Oregon.
Families on the Brink was conducted for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) by the Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies, Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University. The report's authors are principal investigator Stephanie Vitanza, Ph.D.; principal co-investigator Robert Cohen, Ph.D.; and principal co-investigator Laura Lee Hall, Ph.D., NAMI's director of research.
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