Groups Alarmed at Treatment of Troubled Youths
Instutionalization of Troubled Youths Rapped
Washington--Educators, mental-health professionals, and parents this month told a Congressional panel of their growing concern that adolescents with drug or behavior problems are too often institutionalized rather than treated through other methods.
In hearings before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, several witnesses testified that institutionalizing troubled youths can be costly, inappropriate, and sometimes harmful.
Ira M. Schwartz, senior fellow and director of the center for the study of youth policy at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, cited statistics pointing to what he described as "an alarming trend of institutionalizing juveniles in private hospitals and free-standing residen-tial facilities for chemical dependency and psychiatric treatment, largely fueled by the availability of third-party health-care reimbursement."
Mr. Schwartz said the number of juvenile admissions to private psychiatric hospitals jumped by 450 percent over a four-year period--from 10,764 in 1980 to 48,375 in 1984. Those figures, he noted, represent only the 230 hospitals that are members of the National Association of Private Psychiatric Hospitals.
He pointed out that in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, such institutionalizations rose from 1,123 in 1976 to 3,047 in 1984, and that the vast majority of the placements were "voluntary," meaning that parents consented to admit their child on the recommendation of a physician.
Calling for more specific criteria for admission to inpatient treatment, Mr. Schwartz said the cate-
gories now in use, such as "emotional disturbance" and "conduct disorder," "allow for the exercising of virtually unbridled discretion on the part of mental-health professionals."
The mother of a 15-year-old girl told the committee that her daughter experienced "the worst nightmare of her life" when she was institutionalized for nearly two weeks.
The girl was placed in a psychiatric ward after her mother asked her pediatrician to examine her for stress. Both the mother and daughter said they never asked for institutionalization, and the mother said she believed the hospital would have kept her daughter "until the insurance ran out." The girl was finally released after her mother found a mental-health advocate to represent her.--at