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Keeping Families Together Act Re-Introduced; Advocates Say Congress Must Act This Year to End Custody Relinquishment for Mental Health Services

       WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 -- Lawmakers today will reintroduce legislation to address barriers that have led thousands of families to relinquish custody of children with mental or emotional disorders to access scarce mental health services.

       "Families don't need any more excuses," said Trina Osher, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Mental Health Reform and Coordinator of Policy & Research at the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health. "Families need to know that 2005 will be the year Congress walks the walk on family values. Lawmakers need to take action this year, so not one more American family has to make the make the agonizing choice between relinquishing custody and denying their children the services and supports they need."

       Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today will re-introduce the Keeping Families Together Act in the Senate, along with original co-sponsors of the legislation, Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). Representative Jim Ramstad (R-MN) will introduce the bill in the House of Representatives, joined by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Nancy Johnson (R-CT), Pete Stark (D-CA) and other original co-sponsors of the House bill.

       "It is appalling that the search for desperately needed services has torn apart thousands of loving families," said Darcy Gruttadaro, spokesperson for the Campaign for Mental Health Reform and director of NAMI's Child and Adolescent Action Center. "Congressional sponsors of the Keeping Families Together Act understand just how precious family bonds are. They know that mending the safety net for children with mental or emotional disorders isn't an option -- it's a necessity."

       The bill would help states improve collaboration among agencies that serve children with mental health needs, including education, child welfare and juvenile justice. It would also increase the availability of home- and community-based services for children with mental or emotional disorders and give states an incentive to continue to support such services.

       Senator Collins, Representatives Ramstad, Kennedy and Stark, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate, first introduced the Keeping Families Together Act in the last Congress to address the barriers to accessing children's mental health services that can lead to custody relinquishment.

       "It's intolerable that the heartbreaking practices disclosed by General Accounting Office nearly two years ago have not stopped," said Mike M. Faenza, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Mental Health Reform and president and CEO of the National Mental Health Association. "We call on Congress to make enactment of the Keeping Families Together Act a real priority this year and put an end to this tragedy."

       A 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' investigative arm, documented at least 12,700 cases in fiscal year 2001 of children placed in child welfare and juvenile justice systems so they could access needed mental health services. A report released last year by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that, on any given night, 2,000 children languish in juvenile detention facilities across the country because they cannot access mental health services.

       "Children's mental health issues have been on the backburner for far too long," said Laurel Stine, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Mental Health Reform and director of federal relations at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. "Families will keep getting burned and children will continue to suffer the trauma of being separated from their families until Congress takes decisive action to ensure kids with mental or emotional disorders get help they need when they need it."

       - - - -

       ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN: The Campaign for Mental Health Reform has been organized as the mental health community's united voice on federal policy. Its goal is to make access, recovery, and quality in mental health services the hallmarks of our nation's mental health system.

       Campaign for Mental Health Reform:

       - American Psychiatric Association

       - American Psychological Association

       - CHADD - Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

       - Consumer Organizing and Networking Technical Assistance Center (CONTAC)

       - Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)

       - Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health (FFCMH)

       - International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services (IAPSRS)

       - Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

       - National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)

       - National Association of County Behavioral Health Directors (NACBHD)

       - National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD)

       - National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (NCCBH)

       - National Empowerment Center (NEC)

       - National Mental Health Association (NMHA)

       - National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse

       - Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPANUSA)

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