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Illinois Locks Children in Psychiatric Facilities Beyond Medical Necessity, Lawsuit Says

A new lawsuit claims Illinois keeps children in psychiatric facilities for up to five months longer than is deemed medically necessary.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed against the state of Illinois for holding 15 children in mental hospitals beyond medical necessity. The lawsuit claims that keeping children in psychiatric facilities beyond medical justification not only infringes on their rights, it also harms them mentally and costs taxpayers unnecessary funding.

Charles Golbert, the guardian ad litem appointed by the Chicago federal court to represent the children’s grievances, is suing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for abusing and neglecting 15 children in mental institutions. Golbert said DCFS is guilty of incarcerating children in mental hospitals long after they have been medically cleared to leave.

Unnecessarily Locked Up

The lawsuit further stated that keeping children locked up in mental facilities when it is against their continued interests is inhumane and even erodes any balance they achieved while committed.

“Being unnecessarily locked in a psychiatric hospital undermines – even eliminates – the precious stability that children formed during their admission. Children in psychiatric hospitals receive no formal schooling. They are locked indoors every day. Their ability to visit with siblings and family members is drastically curtailed. And psychiatric facilities can be dangerous, particularly for vulnerable children, when other patients express psychiatric and behavior disorders,” the lawsuit states.

A case in point is that of Alana M. who was hospitalized at 13 for depression following her adoptive mother’s death. The plan was to release her to the care of her older sister in another state after discharge, but this plan took almost five months to approve following her medical discharge. She was locked up throughout this period without much contact with family members. By the time approval came for her discharge, Alana’s mental health had deteriorated, and she had to be released to a mental home and not to her older sister.

State records reveal that up to 800 children in the state’s mental facilities were held beyond medical necessity, representing 30 percent of the children in the state’s care who were hospitalized. Some of these were as young as five years old. The lawsuit claims the children were held for up to five months beyond their medical clearance.

Reforming the Mental Health System 

As Courthouse News reported, the state spends about $350 per day for every child kept in a mental hospital. Going by this, Illinois spent an unnecessary minimum of $3.4 million between 2015 and 2017 to incarcerate children in psychiatric facilities. This expenditure is wasteful and unnecessary claims the lawsuit.

This restrictive placement takes a severe toll on children’s mental health, all as the number of children placed in restrictive holding continues to rise every year, the lawsuit claimed.

DCFS has not responded directly to the lawsuit, but noted that the term “beyond medical necessity” (BMN) is only an insurance concept that means Medicaid no longer covers psychiatric hospitalization. The BMN designation does not always coincide with the attending psychiatrist’s evaluation.

Additionally, the diagnoses of self-harm and fire-setting for a child make it difficult to place them in appropriate homes even after the BMN designation. DCFS is spending millions on new appropriate placements, but “rebuilding the capacity of the mental health system will require more than a lawsuit,” DFCS said.



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