Friday, December 31, 2010

Budget cuts in California may mean demise of education-related mental health services

From the Los Angeles Times:

A week before Christmas, Judy Powelson was awaiting her son's first visit home in nine months with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Earlier in the year, the 17-year-old's mental illness had spiraled out of control to the point that he attacked her, kicked a teacher in the groin and was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment. But since he entered residential treatment funded in part by the state, she'd seen him go through marked improvements — getting a 3.11 GPA and being voted MVP in soccer.

Now Powelson's son, identified in court papers as T.G., is one of 20,000 students across California whose mental health services may be in jeopardy in the new year because of a line-item veto by the governor. In October, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed $133 million in funding for what are known as AB 3632 services, a 25-year-old program that requires state and local education and mental health agencies to jointly provide education-related mental health services.

Families with children who suffer from mental illnesses ranging from depression to schizophrenia and who depend on these services have been thrown into chaos, parents and advocates say. Several counties, including Orange and Alameda, have sent out notices indicating that the services will be discontinued in January, attorneys representing the parents said.

"If my son loses this treatment, I will lose my son," Powelson said, her voice quivering. "I will lose him to mental illness, I will lose him to the criminal justice system, to drug abuse, to suicide."

She has filed a declaration about her son's situation as part of a federal class-action lawsuit seeking to block cutbacks to or discontinuation of the services. This month, a federal judge in Los Angeles heard arguments from attorneys representing the families and various state and local agencies but said he would wait until the new year before considering whether to issue an injunction.