February 18, 2005

Senator Champions Community Tx

Added to the incomparable stress of raising a child with a serious brain disease, many parents are forced to maneuver through a maze of legislation that can eventually result in the state claiming custody of their child.

Along with thousands of children in juvenile detention centers and welfare homes that don't recieve adequate treatment, even children in loving families may be taken away by the state due to a lack of community treatment options.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine is responding by championing the Keeping Families Together Act. The legislation would hopefully allow parents to help their children without giving up custody.

The bill has three main goals to achieve this purpose:

--Provide states $55 million in federal grant money over six years so they can create more psychiatric programs in their communities.

--Create a task force to coordinate the federal and state agencies that supervise mental health services for children.

--Enhance flexibility by allowing federal money to be used for treating mentally ill children in community-based programs rather than in psychiatric hospitals. In many cases today, funds are limited to treatment at a hospital or a residential psychiatric institution.

Collins re-introduced the Act after Congress closed last year without addressing the issue.

Along with reported bi-partisan support, the Act is backed by advocacy groups such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychiatric Association.

Sen. Collins originally became concerned about the issue of children's mental health after reading a series report entitled "Castaway Children: Maine's Most Vulnerable Kids." Among other things, the report included the following statistics:

--hundreds of children in Maine are sent to out-of-state psychiatric institutions due to a lack of adequate treatment programs in the state. Hundreds more end up in the juvenile justice system as their progressing and untreated illness causes them to run afoul of the law.

A federal report on the state of the national mental health system in 2003 stated that more than 13,000 children nationally became wards of the state in 2001 because their parents couldn't afford to pay for their psychiatric treatment.

Collins is hopeful that the bill will come to vote in the fall of 2005. "It'll take most of the year to work its way through the legislative process," she said. "But we'll use that time to increase support for it."

View the original "Castaway Children" report online (http://tinyurl.com/4t7wm)

Read NAMI's official statement on the Keeping Families Together Act, and learn how you can help advocate for its passage through Congress. (http://tinyurl.com/4j6pd)

See the original source online: "Collins revives child mental health bill", Feb 16 2005. Available at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram (http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/)


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