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Senator Collins Introduces Bill To Help Families With Children Suffering From Serious Mental Illness

Location: Washington, DC


Senator Susan Collins has introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at preventing families from being forced to relinquish custody of their children suffering from serious mental illnesses for the sole purpose obtaining vital mental health treatment for them. The legislation, known as the "Keeping Families Together Act," would enable states to provide better mental health treatment services for children suffering from serious mental illnesses. It has been endorsed by a broad coalition of mental health and children's groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health America, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.

"It simply should not be a struggle for parents to get services and treatment for their children," said Senator Collins. "No parent should be forced to give up custody of his or her child just to get the services that the child needs."

An estimated 20 percent of American children under the age of 17 suffer from a mental, emotional, or behavioral illness. Yet, two-thirds of all young people who need mental health treatment are not getting it.

As Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Collins chaired a series of hearings in 2003 and 2004 to examine the issue. In 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that Senator Collins requested with Representatives Pete Stark and Patrick Kennedy that found that, in 2001, parents placed more than 12,700 children into the child welfare or juvenile justice systems so that these children could receive mental health services. This likely is just the tip of the iceberg, since 32 states - including five states with the largest populations of children - did not provide the GAO with any data.

The Keeping Families Together Act would do the following:

* Authorizes $100 million over six years for competitive grants to states to create infrastructure to support and sustain statewide systems of care to serve these children more effectively and efficiently while keeping them with their families;
* Establish a federal interagency task force to examine and make recommendations regarding mental health issues in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; and

Senate cosponsors of the bill include Senators Harkin (D-IA), Kennedy (D-MA), Coleman (R-MN), Pryor (D-AR), Cantwell (D-WA), Durbin (D-IL), Mikulski (D-MD), Bingaman (D-NM), Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Kerry (D-MA). A similar bipartisan bill has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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