Children in Peril

Legislative committee to discuss unmet mental health needs of children

2012-08-18T20:30:00Z Legislative committee to discuss unmet mental health needs of childrenMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | A legislative commission slated to discuss the unmet mental health needs of Hoosier children will have its first meeting Aug. 27.

Earlier this year a Times investigation revealed there is a multiagency failure to provide more intensive services to Indiana children with severe mental illnesses or disabilities.

Children who do not receive needed services may enter the court system as juvenile delinquents or as children in need of services, and some mental health professionals have advised parents to "abandon" their children in order to secure services, The Times' probe found.

"It's a small population, but we need to find a better way of addressing their needs than we have in the past," said State Rep. Cindy Noe, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the Legislature's Indiana Commission on Mental Health and Addiction.

The commission is charged with studying children's unmet mental health needs and four other topics, including the involuntary commitment of people with substance abuse disorders and whether prosecutors should be allowed to file child-in-need-of-services, also known as CHINS, petitions.

Prosecutors lost the ability to file CHINS petitions in 2008 after a change in state law. The Indiana Department of Child Services is the only entity that can file the petitions.

In a scathing opinion written in May, Morgan Circuit Judge Matthew Hanson called the law change "a grave mistake." He criticized DCS for having "unchecked" power over CHINS cases but not using it. Prosecutors, judges and public defenders have asked that legislators change the law back to its pre-2008 status.

DCS spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said the changes were designed to have prosecutors and DCS work within their areas of expertise. She pointed out legislators also took away DCS' ability to file criminal cases.

At issue is DCS' propensity for using a category of CHINS petitions that alleges parental neglect, known as CHINS 1, rather than the one that alleges a child is a danger to himself or herself, known as CHINS 6.

Noe said the General Assembly's Commission on Mental Health and Addiction will focus primarily on the issue of CHINS 6 petitions. She asked parents, guardians and professionals who have had good or bad experiences to attend the committee meetings and let their voices be heard.

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