It is usually appalling to hear of the often untested methods in which people with mental illnesses were treated over the centuries. Many methods are considered brutal nowadays.
Perhaps no less reprehensible is the recent claim by court officials that mentally ill children are being locked up in detention centers instead of being provided with critical care.
The plight took on recent notice after Morgan County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Cline became frustrated with rejections by the Indiana Department of Child Services to treat children who he believed were mentally ill. He filed a legal motion to help a girl who repeatedly banged her head.
Circuit Judge Matthew Hanson ruled in favor of the Department of Child Services but wrote, “It would seem the DCS is simply waiting around until the child commits such egregious or dangerous acts that the system has no choice but to file charges against the child.”
One case shouldn’t condemn an agency, but one case can reflect an ongoing, systemic crisis.
In 2008, the Legislature took away the ability by county prosecutors to file petitions known as “child in need of services,” or CHINS. The General Assembly also clarified the roles of DCS and prosecutors and prohibited DCS from filing criminal charges.
Yet judges and prosecutors are finding themselves being forced to place children in an institution rather than provide treatment. Many claim that DCS doesn’t want to spend the funds to offer treatment.
That charge harkens back to earlier decades of misguided treatment.
In this age, however, most Hoosiers sense that incarceration may not be the best alternative for mentally ill children. Most Hoosiers also tire quickly of power struggles between taxpayer-funded government agencies and offices.
A panel should be formed quickly to address the process. The panel should look at best practices in other states and implement those to ensure the mentally ill are not trapped by legislative missteps or agency power struggles. All should work together to provide the proper treatment to mentally ill youths so that being placed in an institution is not the only option.