INDIANAPOLIS – State officials on Monday proposed a pilot program to help hundreds of kids with mental health challenges who may be getting lost in the system.
The move came as a summer legislative committee took up the issue of CHINS 6 cases.
The primary question is whether prosecutors should be allowed to file these child-in-need-of-services petitions. They lost that right in 2008 after a change in state law. Currently, only the Indiana Department of Child Services can file them.
A CHINS 6 is different than a usual petition alleging abuse or neglect in the home. It focuses on a child who is a danger to himself or herself due to mental illness or disability.
Since the change, DCS has filed only a half-dozen of these mental health petitions a year, leading some parents to admit abuse or neglect that doesnt really exist in order to get mental health services.
Prosecutors, judges and public defenders have asked legislators to give prosecutors back the option of filing these petitions.
DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan addressed the committee and proposed a pilot program idea that would start in Lawrenceburg covering a five-county area.
These children do not belong before a court of law, he said. Its a small but very important segment of small Hoosiers in this state.
Ryan also conceded that many of these children – about 300 to 350 kids statewide – are getting lost in the system.
He said the pilot program would allow anyone – schools, law enforcement, probation officers, and parents – to refer a child to a local community mental health center for an assessment.
If the child is eligible for Medicaid and mental health services are deemed necessary they would be paid for by that federal/state program. If the child comes from a family with an income high enough that is doesnt qualify for Medicaid but also doesnt have private insurance, DCS will pay for mental health services for that child.
Ryan committed $13 million for the pilot and possible statewide implementation for fiscal year 2013.
After that, the agency would need the legislature to fund $20 million annually in the state budget to cover the cost of providing services to the children.
The pilot could be up in a few months with a 60-day trial before decisions are made on expanding it.
If the child or family doesnt cooperate with the services, DCS would retain the right to file the CHINS 6 petition.
Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said the pilot sounds promising but that it would likely take more than a year before it was available in all parts of the state.
Until the new system is proven, he advocated giving the power to prosecutors to help these children that DCS has let languish for several years.
We have a problem, Landis said. Do you think we need checks and balances or not?
The Commission on Mental Health and Addiction hopes to discuss possible legislative proposals at its October meeting.