One of the most terrifying situations for parents is the loss of a child. This fear fuels custody battles between exes in court and finds parents struggling financially doing everything in their power to keep their children out of the foster care system. Sometimes that deep love for a child can be the very reason a parent chooses to give their child up. Case in point, a recent ABC Action News report about parents giving up custody of their kids for the sake of these children’s mental health.
The Difficult Cases in Foster Care
Michael Bryant is the Chief Operating Officer of Embrace Families, a non-profit organization that oversees child-welfare services, adoption, and foster care in Orlando, Florida. He tells Parentology he’s witnessed some of these instances firsthand.
“There was a family with a 12-year-old girl diagnosed with schizophrenia,” Bryant says. “She was aggressive in the home and she has two younger siblings. The mother was going through breast cancer treatment. Both the mother and the siblings were targets of her aggression.”
He adds, “The stress the family had and the lack of [support] brought her to the attention of the foster care system. It was the only way the family felt they could get the help they needed for their child and keep the family safe. They had insurance, but it wasn’t enough to meet the needs of the child.”
Why Parents Go Through With It
In the ABC report, one Florida father gave up his 13-year-old-son after insurance stopped paying for the boy’s mental health treatment. The child tried to poison his parents with toilet-bowl cleaner and attempted to kill the family dog twice. The boy is now facing criminal charges.
An adoptive mother faced the same difficult decision after struggling to secure mental health services for her teen daughter. Doctors diagnosed the minor with six mental health disorders. She killed the family pets and attempted to murder her adoptive mother three times.
Of difficulties like these faced by parents, Virginia Boga, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York, tells Parentology, “The mental health system has a lot of flaws, which unfortunately leaves parents without help. Not all states have Medicaid waivers for children with mental health illness, but many states do.”
The Legal Repercussion of Giving Up a Child
The ABC report noted the worst is not quite over yet when parents give up custody for child mental health services. Along with feelings of guilt and grief, parents also face charges. It’s not legal to voluntarily relinquish parental rights, so parents in Florida face child abandonment charges.
According to NPR, relinquishing custody doesn’t always solve the problem. Sometimes children spend months in ill-equipped facilities while the state attempts to secure proper care on their behalf.
Mental health is often considered an adult epidemic, but it affects children, too. WebMD estimates almost five million juveniles in America have serious mental illnesses. These children and their families need assistance to prevent kids from causing harm to themselves and others. Expanding the availability of mental health waivers could provide more opportunities for families to seek assistance.
Parents Give Up Children Mental Health Services: Sources
ABC Action News: Some Florida Parents Resort To Giving Up Custody of Their Child To Get Them Mental Health Help
ABC Action News: U.S Congressman Demands Action After I-Team Finds Parents Give Up Custody for Mental Health Services
Michael Bryant, Embrace Families
Virginia Boga, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
WebMD: Mental Illness in Children
NPR: To Get Mental Health Help For a Child, Desperate Parents Relinquish Custody