May is traditionally Mental Health Awareness Month. Here at Council for Children’s Rights, our work in Mental Health representation has never been more needed or more important.
According to Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 children between the ages of 13 and 18 have, or will have, a serious mental health disorder. The 2017 Mecklenburg Community Health Assessment ranked mental health as the number one community health issue.
Mental health conditions strike people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and from all segments of our society. Children are no exception. Over the past few years, teen suicides rates have been increasing, with suicide among children between 10 and 14 representing nearly half of all childhood suicide. In North Carolina, nearly 66% of youth with major depression are not receiving any mental health treatment.
Although mental health issues are not confined to the poor, we know that the impacts of poverty on childhood development and family stability directly correlate to greater prevalence of mental health disorders.
The individual children served by CFCR are among those suffering the most severe and acutely critical cases. 84% of our children have more than one mental health issue. Most of our children have experienced life-long, even intergenerational, poverty. Many have been abandoned or have been victims of abuse and neglect. By the time we are appointed, they have been failed by institution after institution in the system.
# children committed that CFCR was appointed to represent in FY17
% of involuntary commitment cases where long-term consequences were avoided
clients with more than one mental health issue
In particular, treating trauma effectively requires special training and, according to experts, our community has a severe shortage of credentialed clinicians. Medicaid approval takes too long and denial rates are too high, and a lack of coverage by private insurance keeps many children from receiving needed treatment. We see too many children being sent to group homes and shelters because clinically appropriate placements and services are simply unavailable.
Compassionate mental health treatment demands a deep respect for upholding the child’s rights. The role of our mental health attorneys and advocates is to protect and uphold those rights, making certain that once a child is admitted to a facility, the law is upheld, treatment is appropriate, and a comprehensive discharge plan is in place.
The child should receive appropriate treatment, voluntary and community-based whenever possible; have a voice in his/her treatment; and bear no collateral consequences that may impede future success.
Our representation makes a difference. Your support means we are there to offer invaluable experience in navigating these complex health systems. Knowing what options are available to best serve each child is essential to achieving the best results possible. Our experience and expertise helps children and families make informed treatment decisions. Each time we are able to reduce or eliminate long-term consequences you are helping us to change a life.
Our children’s mental health care system is in a state of crisis that will not be easily or quickly fixed. Until it is, more and more children will depend on CFCR to protect them and keep them from falling into the gaps of this broken system, stretching our capacity even further.
Your partnership helps insure that we are there for any child who needs us. Your support is critical; not only to our growth to meet the growing need but also to the quality of representation and service we can deliver. Our children deserve no less.
RESOURCES AND TOOLS
By NC statute, any child admitted to a mental health facility has the right to regular hearings, guaranteeing their liberties are not violated. CFCR represents every child in Mecklenburg County facing civil commitment to a psychiatric hospital or residential treatment facility.
In FY17, CFCR was court appointed to represent 1,787 children committed to mental health facilities, provided direct legal representation to over 700 children in 1,314 cases and attended 2,618 hearings. This year we expect that need to increase, projecting at least 2,000 appointments, direct representation to 750 children, and 1,400 cases.
To defend the child’s constitutional rights when facing commitment. To ensure the child receives appropriate treatment, voluntary and community-based whenever possible; to ensure the child has a voice in his/her treatment; and to ensure the child bears no collateral consequences that may impede future success.