Published Online: September 20, 2004

Health Update

Mentally Ill Children

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Mentally Ill Children: Failing to link mentally ill children with the services and treatments they need can carry heavy consequences, a congressional report suggests.

In a six-month survey of 524 juvenile-detention centers across the country, nearly 15,000 incarcerated youngsters-roughly 7 percent of all the children in the centers that responded to the investigation-were being held only because they were waiting for mental-health services.

The report, released last month, was prepared for Rep. Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, by the House Committee on Government Reform's special-investigations division. The survey followed Senate hearings held last year to examine the challenges faced by families of mentally ill children.

Two-thirds of the nation's juvenile-detention centers hold children and adolescents who are awaiting community mental-health treatment, the study found. In 33 states, it found, such youngsters are incarcerated without any criminal charges, and those waiting for treatment are as young as 7.

Together, the centers spend an estimated $100 million annually to house youths waiting for mental-health services.

"According to experts in mental health and juvenile detention, the survey results likely underestimate the full scope of the problem," the report warns. "Major improvements in community mental-health services are urgently needed to prevent the unnecessary and inappropriate incarceration of children and youth in the United States."

Vol. 23, Issue 44

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