Cannon on Community-Based Mental Health Treatment for Children
Just out: Yael Zakai Cannon, There's No Place Like Home: Realizing the Vision of Community-Based Mental Health Treatment for Children, 61 DePaul L. Rev. 1049 (2012). From the introduction:
There are a number of federal legal regimes explicitly structured to ensure that children like Mary are provided with timely community-based mental health treatment. This Article argues that local and state public agencies often fail to comply with their duties and fulfill the aims of these federal regimes, leading to unnecessary institutionalization of youth. Mary's placement in a residential treatment facility reflects a failure of the multiple systems in which she was involved to achieve the goals of related federal legal regimes. Like Mary, a child living in poverty may be entangled in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and may have unmet special education and health care needs. Rather than coordinating to address a child's needs holistically, these systems typically operate as though they are in silos. For example, officials from the child welfare agency responsible for a child's foster care placement might never communicate with the school officials responsible for the child's special education needs. This can lead to failure and crisis in both the foster home and the school, resulting in the child's placement in a more restrictive institutional setting.
Just as public agencies often operate in silos, the examination of problems affecting low-income youth also typically occurs through singular, myopic lenses. Scholars often engage in an individual assessment of challenges related to one system, such as the child welfare system or the juvenile justice system. In addition, courts usually segregate hearings related to children, with family court judges handling an “abuse/neglect docket” and handling a “juvenile delinquency docket” in different family court hearings and different administrative hearing officers handling special education and Medicaid-related claims in other fora. Moreover, attorneys are appointed by courts or offer themselves for hire for a particular category of matters and typically remain in their own silos. This Article expands the analysis of the legal systems affecting at-risk youth by looking at them holistically, analyzing their intersections, and evaluating the harmful effects of the compartmentalization. As a result of this compartmentalization and other factors, the common goals of federal legal regimes related to child welfare, special education, health care, juvenile justice, and disability rights continue to go unrealized, resulting in the denial to children of much-needed treatment and educational services and their subsequent placement in restrictive settings.
Part II examines the over-institutionalization of children in harmful and costly residential treatment centers (RTCs), a largely invisible problem about which policymakers, judges, attorneys, and taxpayers should all be concerned. Part III reviews the various legal regimes structured to ensure that children with mental health needs receive community-based services and remain out of these institutions. Through their statutes, regulations, case law, and policies, federal legal regimes related to child welfare, special education, health care, juvenile justice, and disability rights share these common aims, which remain unrealized. Part IV assesses the reasons for the disjunction between the shared goals of these legal regimes and the reality that many children living in poverty are unnecessarily institutionalized due to their inability to access community-based services. The stigma surrounding mental illness, compartmentalization among child-serving public agencies, and the scarcity of providers contribute collectively to this disjunction, with devastating consequences.
In Part V, the Article concludes by calling for the fulfillment of the goals of these legal regimes through the implementation of principles and best practices in the field of children's mental health identified by researchers in other disciplines, such as psychiatry, psychology, social work, and health policy. Public agencies should adopt and make operational the “system of care” philosophy, an approach to children's mental health developed by the National Institute of Mental Health that emphasizes coordination among various child-serving public agencies. Local and state agencies should also ensure the provision of specific mental health services proven to be effective through valid and robust scientific studies, known as “evidence-based practices,” to keep children at home and in their communities.