Chairman Collins Introduces Bill to Improve Mental Health Services for Children

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today unveiled the Keeping Families Together Act, new legislation that would enable federal and state agencies to work together to develop more coordinated systems of care for children with serious mental illnesses. The bipartisan legislation was introduced as a result of recent hearings held by Senator Collins to examine the issue of parents who have given up custody of their seriously mentally ill children for the sole purpose of obtaining treatment for them.

“No family should be forced to make a decision as difficult as that of giving up custody of their mentally ill children just to obtain vital treatment. This practice is far too prevalent and we must work with the states to ensure that these children have access to the treatment they desperately need,” said Senator Collins.

Senator Collins’s bill, cosponsored by Sens. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Mark Pryor (D-AR), would take a three-pronged approach to create coordinated support systems to treat and provide services to children with serious emotional disturbances. Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Pete Stark (D-CA) will sponsor the House version of the legislation.

The bill, which is based on the recommendations of a General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued in April 2003 that was requested by Senator Collins and two members of the House of Representatives, would

— Provide grants to states to create infrastructure to support and sustain statewide systems of care to serve these children more effectively and efficiently while keeping them with their families;

— Establish a federal interagency task force to examine and make recommendations regarding mental health issues in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems; and

— Remove statutory barriers that currently prevent more states from using the Medicaid home- and community-services waiver to serve children with serious mental health conditions.

To further help these families, Senator Collins will pursue passage of three other bills that she has cosponsored. These are

— The Family Opportunity Act, which would allow states to create a new eligibility category for Medicaid to cover children with physical or mental illness whose family income exceeds state requirements. States could require families to pay monthly premiums for these services, based on their income levels.

— The Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2003, which would require insurers to cover mental illness in the same way that they cover a physical illness.

— The Child Healthcare Crisis Relief Act, which includes incentives, such as scholarship and student loan forgiveness programs, to help recruit and retain child mental health professionals. It also would expand and create programs to train child mental health professionals.

“Parents should not be bounced from agency to agency, knocking on every door they come to, in the hope that they will happen upon someone who has an answer,” said Senator Collins. “It simply should not be such a struggle for parents to get services and treatment for their children.”