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March 2015Volume 1Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Requirement that parents relinquish custody of their children in order to get mental health services addressed by new state law

For decades, Illinois parents who could not afford intensive mental health services for their child had two options: deny the child needed mental health services or give custody to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) so the child could receive the necessary treatment. Intensive community-based services are not generally covered by employer-based insurance plans, even when those plans cover outpatient and acute hospital care, leaving parents to pay for services such as residential treatment programs. Parents who could not afford these services were often told that their only option was to relinquish custody to the state so that the child could receive appropriate services. 

This practice, also known as psychiatric lockout, is devastating to families, signaling children that they are unwanted. Parents forced to give up a child report feeling as though they have failed as parents. A new law that became effective on January 1, 2015 aims to resolve this issue.

The Custody Relinquishment Prevention Act, 20 ILCS 540, requires DCFS, DHS, and other state agencies to enter into an interagency agreement to prevent children and youth from entering the custody or guardianship of DCFS solely in order to receive services for serious mental or emotional problems. The interagency agreement must address exhaustion of private insurance, income-based cost sharing, and crisis stabilization and care planning for children who are not Medicaid eligible.  The law applies to situations where there is no evidence of abuse or neglect.

Although the Act leaves many details to the several state agencies affected by the issue, it does require annual reports to the General Assembly on the progress of the efforts to eliminate psychiatric lockouts. The agencies that must complete the interagency agreement by June 30, 2015, are the Departments of Children and Family Services, Human Services, Healthcare and Family Services, Juvenile Justice, Public Health, and the State Board of Education. ■


Patti Werner is Associate General Counsel for Presence Health.

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