Illinois Parents Facing Relinquishment of Kids with Mental Illness to Get Help

(Chicago) – A shrunken public safety net in Illinois due to budget cuts has forced numerous parents into an anguished-filled dilemma: whether to relinquish custody of their children with serious mental or emotional problems in order to get them care.

As of January 1, 2015, a new Illinois law will help avert this agonizing choice for parents.

House Bill 5598, sponsored by State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on August 1.

The new law addresses scenarios in which parents resort to relinquishing custody, making their children wards of the state, in order to gain access to urgently needed treatment through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Wards of the state are entitled to care for these serious conditions.

“Over the past few years, children with mental illnesses have faced diminishing programs and services due to persistent and harsh state budget cuts,” said Feigenholtz. “With nowhere else to go, desperate parents are being forced to give up custody of their children. This law will make sure that families aren’t being torn apart.”

Illinois agencies will now organize a coordinated state response to help find and provide affordable care without forcing this decision. The bill requires DCFS and other state agencies – the Department of Human Services (DHS), the State Board of Education (BOE), the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and the Department of Public Health (DPH) – to create an intergovernmental team that will create a path for parents who have exhausted all other options to help them to secure health care for their children without having to relinquish custody.

Feigenholtz obtained an additional $7 million in the Fiscal Year 2015 state budget to fund mental health services that she says will allow DCFS to help keep families intact.

“This bill is a common sense measure to protect families and children across Illinois,” Feigenholtz said. “It ensures that children can receive the mental health treatment they need and continue to thrive in the supportive and loving environments provided by their families.”

“Parents should never be put in the position of having to give up custody of their child in order for the child to get mental health care,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “Representative Feigenholtz’s bill will keep families together as they get the care they critically need.”

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