A Missouri woman has had to give up legal custody of her son to a state agency in order to get him needed medical treatment.
Caleb Adams has bipolar disorder, a chemical imbalance in the brain that occasionally makes him violent.
"It tore my heart out but I knew that I had no choice. I knew that that was the only hope I had of getting my child the help that he needed," said Janice Adams, Caleb’s mother.
After years of treatment and short hospital stays, Janice knew her son needed long-term residential care. Since she could not afford the care, she turned to the state of Missouri for help.
"I called every place I could think of. All of them said that I would have to give custody to the state before they would accept him. That was the only way that I could get the help that Caleb needed."
Turning to the state of Missouri for help, Janice got the same answer everywhere she went. They all told her to put Caleb in foster care.
Janice initially resisted, but eventually turned Caleb over to the state.
"I don’t think that is right," Janice said. "This shouldn’t happen just because we don’t have good jobs … make good money."
What happened to the Adams happens frequently. A study by the Bazelon Center estimates one in every five parents in America with a mentally ill child must surrender the child in order to get the child mental care.
"They have to give up essentially all control over decisions that are being made about their children," said Tammy Seltzer of the Bazelon Center. "They can't even make decisions as simple as what does my child eat. Instead of fixing the system we are making families and children pay the ultimate price by pulling them apart in ways that are just unimaginable."
The Bazelon Center report claims it has found cases in at least half the states in the country of parents being told by state workers to give up custody to get their child proper care.
Missouri state officials say in Caleb’s case it’s a budget problem. The state’s mental health budget does not have enough money to help kids like Caleb, but the child protective services budget does.
Dorn Schuffman of the Missouri Mental Health Department points to the lack of funding as cause for such familial separations. "For somebody to give up custody just to access services was never the intent of the law. Child protective services, once they have a child are obligated. So, the state has to come up with the funds to provide their services," he said.
In order to get the funds from Missouri Child Protective Services, the family has to be declared abusive, or neglectful. Or the family has to relinquish their rights to their child.
"These are not parents who are accused of being abusive or neglectful. These are parents that just want to help their children," said Seltzer.
The Missouri State Legislature had taken action on the problem, passing legislation that would give parents more options before giving up custody of their children. But there’s still not enough money.
"We have limited resources," Schuffman said. "We are funded at a certain level that will serve so many kids. When we are fully serving kids and utilizing all of the dollars, there really is no place for us to go."
Unfortunately, this means Caleb has no other place to go either. He’s living in a long-term mental health facility, and showing improvements. He gets to visit home every weekend, but even with the recently passed legislation, parents like Janice Adams still may never get back custody of their children.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.