| March 13, 2019

New Bill to Help Children Get Access to Mental Care in Illinois

Having passed in the Senate Committee on Human Services, a new Illinois bill, the Mental Health and Development Disabilities Administrative Act, is now under consideration by the Senate of the Illinois General Assembly. This Senate bill provides help to children at risk of entering state custody due to mental illnesses that go untreated.

Since the Children’s Mental Health Act was passed in 2003, Illinois has made clear commitments to make the mental health of children in Illinois a priority. This new bill could help children get more access to mental healthcare services in Illinois.

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This bill would make it easier for families to keep custody of a child while the state provides mental health services for them rather than forcing parents to give up custody of the child in order to  provide the best mental healthcare options for him/her. Every year, there are many children with mental illness who enter state custody in order for them to gain access to mental healthcare.

This bill, in full effect, would allow families in Illinois to get full access to funding provided by the Family Support Program, even if agencies step in to provide guardianship until the services are arranged. By doing this, children with mental illnesses that end up in courts, do not have to be taken away from their families. Many parents are unaware of the program, therefore, it will be the responsibility of state agencies to perform outreach and spread awareness of this program to those who need it.

According to Charles Golbert, Cook County Acting Public Guardian, children and youth who have serious mental illnesses may act violently causing them to end up in a juvenile court. Golbert says “The only way to get funding for the mental health treatment [is] for the court to put the child in the custody [of the Department of Children and Family Services]”. This means that parents may give up custody if the child needs access to services. Golbert also says that, in Cook County, there are around 100 children in the custody of the agency at any given time, under these circumstances.

Illinois Family Support Program

The Family Support Program (FSP) provides mental health illness services to children and youth who have emotional disturbances. This program was previously called the Individual Care Grant Program. FSP’s main goal is to support eligible children and youth, including their families, by promoting community-based services.

This program provides access to community mental health services and residential treatment. The services covered by FSP are the following: treatment planning, treatment assessment, medication management, community support, therapy/ counseling, and outpatient services. They also provide both therapeutic support services (to support the youth’s treatment goals and promote a safe environment for them in the community) and family support services (non-therapeutic that support the youth’s stabilization in the community).

Children and Mental Illness In Illinois

There are various different resources for children with mental illnesses in the state of Illinois, such as the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership.

This organization is one of the only statewide partnership of advocates that are dedicated to improving the quality and access of mental health programs and services for children. ICMHP views a child’s mental health with the public health approach. They take a look at the child’s state in a comprehensive manner that must have a strong foundation built on quality prevention, early intervention, and treatment supports.

The organization exists to help bring together the child-service state agencies, parents, policy-makers and providers in order to improve children’s mental health in Illinois. They are currently responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Plan.

Illinois has become a nationwide leader when it comes to recognizing the importance of children’s mental, as well as overall, health. Since the Children’s Mental Health Act was passed by the General Assembly in 2003, Illinois has made clear commitments to improving mental health. Some of their priorities include: increasing public awareness and understanding of the social and mental development of children, and the advancement of community collaboration and partnerships in the promotion and prevention of the mental health of children. This organization also develops and advocates for public policies and expanded programs of mental health services.

An issue that was not mentioned in the bill is the shortage of treatment beds for children in Illinois who are in need of that level of care. Golbert stated that the new legislation would prevent this problem from getting even worse and allow children to avoid entering state custody unless it is absolutely necessary.  

This law will not help everyone, and only families who already have pending applications with the Healthcare and Family Services for the Family Support Program Department are eligible. The children must also be under the age of 15 in order to meet the requirements of the Family Support Program. The bill has passed out of the Senate Committee on Human Services.  If signed, it will take full effect in July 2019.


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