In our system, parents have to abandon their disabled children (officially anyway) in order to make the state into a child’s legal guardian, and thus the state will provide actual health care.
One of the worst moments in Eileen’s life was the day she called a local Chicago hospital to tell them she refused to pick up her 15-year-old son after he was discharged. He was in the hospital for psychiatric care, one of many visits over his young life.
It’s hard to imagine why someone who loved being a mom would decide to refuse to pick up a child who had been discharged from a hospital. But it was a painfully logical choice.
Across the country, and especially in Illinois, it can be incredibly difficult to get psychiatric services for a child, let alone pay for them. So when a parent has a child that needs psychiatric help, that parent sometimes make an excruciating choice to give up custody.
The reason these parents abandon their children is because once the state becomes the child’s legal custodian, the state is forced to provide the mental health care the parent couldn’t access. According to the most recent data available, about every four days in Illinois, a parent gives up parental custody to get critical mental health services for their child.
It makes terrible sense. I’ve written about the ways our system is so focused on crisis response rather than crisis prevention, so people can get into emergency rooms (maybe, sometimes, if not shot), but not long-term preventative psychiatric care. See here on Phillip Coleman and here on Paul Ryan for my work on that.