A Texas mom I’ve gotten to know sent a heartbreaking email to my work not long ago. Her name’s Cyndi, and she lives in a suburb with her middle-class family. She has four kids and a bit of a tendency to carry on about their interests and quirks, the way all loving moms probably do.
She emailed, asking for another take on the advice her son’s doctor gave. Here’s what he said she and her husband should do to help their sick child get well again: “terminate our parental rights and let Child Protective Services care for our son.”
Cyndi and her husband weren’t abusive; they weren’t neglectful in any way. They just had a child who was 13 years old and suffered from the kind of sickness doctors don’t have to treat if their parents can’t pay. Their son has a mental illness. Cyndi and her husband had emptied their 401Ks already paying for their boy’s treatment. What their son needed—intense daily monitoring and therapy—few insurance policies cover. The doctor was saying the only way to promise their child that kind of treatment was to make him, essentially, an orphan. As the state’s ward, he would be guaranteed some help.
“How can a child get better after being told that his forever parents can’t be his forever parents anymore because he’s too expensive?” Cyndi asked in her email. “How does that make sense? I think it is a sad day in America where parents are told that to get help for their sick children, they must stop being their parents.”
This, believe it or not, is a trend, one I knew nothing about before working at Texans Care for Children. Our organization is about helping all kids, including ones with mental illness, ones in foster care, ones in juvenile lock-ups. You’d be surprised how often those are the same kids. As families run out of options, it’s common for them to hear: “Either put your mentally ill child behind bars, or give up your rights as a parent.” Only when that child’s the state’s responsibility will she have a legal right to mental health care.
As I post this, some lawmakers at the Texas Capitol are holding a hearing on the state of mental health services in Texas. It’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. And it’s also the day when Josette Saxton, a LiveMom regular, is releasing a Check-Up on Children’s Mental Health. The paper rates how Texas and its communities are doing when it comes to helping the 1 in 5 kids with a mental health concern, and 1 in 20 with a serious mental illness. It’s a good way to test your awareness of children’s mental health issues, too. (By the way, it isn’t all doom and gloom: the good news is Austin offers a real bright spot for families, with some innovative programs that other Texas cities want to replicate.)
Because it’s almost Mothers’ Day, today seems as good a time as any to make a wish that no mother will have to face the so-called “choice” that Cyndi did. (To stand with her, and families just like hers, in demanding better, please get on our email list.) The family is still searching for answers, but for the time being their boy is safe and receiving treatment . . . and he’s still their son.
Do you know of families who have struggled to find care for a mentally ill child? Are there things you’d like to see schools or doctors do better when it comes to children’s mental health? Let us know in the comments.
Written by: Christine Sinatra