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Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 06:58 am

When state, not adoption, goes wrong

Regarding your Aug. 11 cover story, “When adoption goes wrong: Giving up custody to get kids the mental health care they need,” by Patrick Yeagle: A better title for this article would be “Trading custody rights for mental health care.”

Our adoption did not “go wrong.” We love and unconditionally accept our adoptive children despite dealing with chronic issues related to prenatal brain damage and pre-adoptive abuse. Children with subsidized adoptions are entitled to “medically necessary” services to age 21, under the “Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT)” provision of Medicaid law, the federal statute referenced in our lawsuit. Violating this mandate, Illinois denies treatment to children, under Medicaid, awarded to them as part of a special needs adoption. After being denied these services, child mental health care defaults to the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Both systems are uneducated and ill-equipped to process complex mental health cases.

The Department of Children and Family Services offers therapists to adoptive families. When the child’s psychiatrist recommends residential treatment, DCFS fails to provide services in a timely manner, prompting a psychiatric lockout. Then adoption preservation services end. DCFS processes these families through investigative and juvenile court systems they same way they treat abusive parents.  

The Juvenile Court Act requires that parents facing the barbaric practice of trading custody rights for health care be charged with neglect. As parents defend themselves against false allegations in court, investigators are routinely reprimanded with mere non-disciplinary counseling.

In your article, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe refers to “normal” teen problems such as sexuality, identity and attachment, resulting in common teen issues such as truancy, verbal aggression and defiance. On the contrary, adoptive parents face extreme problems such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and prenatal substance abuse effect. Violent and aggressive acts, such as chronic threats of killing self or others, self-mutilation, hiding weapons, damaging property, and setting fire to their homes, hardly qualify as “normal” teen problems, as Mr. Marlowe suggests. In denying services, DCFS places siblings, schoolmates, and the community at risk of danger.

DCFS could provide temporary funding while aiding in sorting out funding issues. After psychiatric lockout, DCFS replaces parents with parent substitutes, strangers to a child with a bonding/attachment predisposition, inhibiting therapeutic progress. While therapists seek to strengthen familial bonds, the “system” is simultaneously destroying them. DCFS and juvenile courts overlook this critical therapeutic setback.  

The article fails to present appropriate solutions, such as the state complying with federal Medicaid law and offering Voluntary Placement agreements. Voluntary Placement agreements are used successfully in other states, allowing families to voluntarily place children into the system to access care without facing unwarranted charges, while allowing states to draw federal funds. Parent advocates are working with legislators on legislation which addresses psychiatric lockout to prevent unwarranted criminalization of child or parent. We are also working with members of Congress on federal mandates, which clarify adoptive children’s rights to treatment under the EPSDT provision of Medicaid.

We encourage DCFS to develop a new track that responds to lockouts, preventing the tragedy of “second-time foster children.” DCFS has ignored parent requests for joint problem-solving meetings. Post-adopt parents desire to be part of the solution. During one of our court cases, the judge scolded the attorneys, caseworkers and CASA, who spoke to us as abusive parents: “There is nobody bad here! There are no criminals. There is no crime. Do you all get it?” If they “got it,” we wouldn’t be sitting in the same seats as birth parents who abused our children prior to the adoption.

Toni Hoy is an adoptive parent and parent advocate and a member of the board of directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for the Barrington area. 
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