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Parents relinquish custody so ill children will receive care

Families challenged by children with mental illness may be interested in a trend occurring in Texas, Illinois and other states. Known as a psychiatric "lockout," it is the practice of parents who refuse to allow a child to return home or to make living provision for them when they are discharged from a mental health facility. Believing that their children will receive needed mental health care in state custody that they are financially unable to provide, parents relinquish custody of the child.

At issue in Illinois are Individual Care Grants, money provided by the state to families in need of assistance for mental health services. The issuing of ICGs has declined over the past five years by half, attributed to decreased funding for safety net services. Nonprofit service providers report that the application process for ICGs has become onerous and that applications which at one time were readily accepted are now rejected due to minor errors.

State representatives have attributed the decline in ICGs to a more stringent interpretation of qualification, a decline in funding and past overspending. One ACLU attorney asserted that since a consent decree in 1980, ICGs are now an entitlement and to deny qualifying applicants the grants is illegal, regardless of state funding.

Child custody issues can be complex, and the best interests of the child are an overriding consideration. For parents to have to make a choice between maintaining custody or their child receiving medical treatment is not in the best interests of the child. A practice that has the effect of withholding healthcare in return for state child custody has troubling implications. Parental rights and custody issues are changing frequently and family law continues to address these changes as they arise.

Source: Nonprofit Quarterly, "Families Forced to Relinquish Child Custody to Get Mental Health Services", Rick Cohen, December 19, 2013

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