Several times a year, parents come to our office and ask us to help them relinquish custody to the State in order to get their child needed mental health services. Often these children are adopted, but not always. What they do have in common is severe mental health needs that cannot be met in any other way. These are kids who need a residential placement, intensive therapy, and may be presenting a severe safety risk to their families or themselves. Every case is heartbreaking. From a legal standpoint this has required a legal battle, depending on the county, to prove that the case/parents/kid meets the requirements needed for a no-fault dependency. In one case in McHenry County, a young teenager who was not longer safe at home given his severe violent episodes was to spend months in detention in another county while the State’s Attorney fought to prevent his assessing care and wanted the parent charged with neglect. The Judge agreed that these circumstances merited a finding of a no-fault dependency and he will receive the treatment he needs. There is no happy ending in these cases but access to needed mental health treatment is the goal.
Hopefully, Illinois law is about to change if the Voluntary Custody Relinquishment Act—HB5598 HFA2 passes. The summary of the bill is as follows:
Status: Engrossed on April 10, 2014 – 50% progress.
Action: 2014-05-13-Added as Alternate Co-Sponsor Sen. Steve Stadelman.
Amends the Children and Family Services Act. Provides that when a child is voluntarily placed in out-of-home care funded by the Department of Children and Family Services for the purpose of obtaining mental health treatment for the child or treatment for the child’s developmental disability, the Department is prohibited from requesting, recommending, or requiring that a parent terminate his or her parental rights with respect to the child or that a parent or legal guardian transfer legal custody to the Department. Provides that a child voluntarily placed in out-of-home care shall be placed pursuant to a voluntary placement agreement voluntarily entered into by the parents or legal guardian of the child. Provides that for a child to remain in out-of-home care for longer than 180 days, a juvenile court must make a judicial determination within the first 180 of the placement that the placement is in the best interests of the child. Requires the Department to report annually to the General
Assembly concerning (i) the number of children who were voluntarily placed in out-of-home care funded by the Department and (ii) the number of parents or legal guardians who relinquished custody of their children for the purpose of seeking mental health treatment for the child or treatment for the child’s developmental disability. Contains provisions concerning: an interagency agreement between specified State agencies to prevent children from becoming wards of the State and entering the child welfare system solely for the purpose of treatment of a child’s serious mental illness, serious emotional disturbance, or developmental disability; certain protocols that must be included in the interagency agreement; and reporting requirements. Effective immediately.