OUT OF COUNTY
Hundreds sent far away from
Carolina, according to its own mental health reform plan, should treat
children with mental illness and behavioral difficulties in their own
of the state's mentally ill children are placed in group homes located hours
from family -- a practice that flies in the face of current thinking on the
best way to help them.
end up in two counties: Mecklenburg and Cumberland.
doesn't keep data on where North Carolina's 33 area mental health agencies
send adolescent residents. But an Observer survey of those agencies found
that roughly 1,000 out of 1,800 kids placed in July in Level III group
homes were living outside their home county. Level III is the most common
type of home.
and Cumberland had the most -- nearly a third of those 1,000 children.
Cumberland had 128. Mecklenburg had 193. They came from counties stretching
from mountains to coast.
health officials recognize this disconnect between philosophy and reality
and say they're working to correct it. "Yes, we are aware of it, and
yes, we're very concerned," said N.C. Division of Mental Health Deputy
Director Leza Wainwright.
wants to use more mental health services that treat children in their homes
and communities, she said. Officials believe out-of-county placements will
decline as mental health agencies choose these new services instead of
But for now,
Mecklenburg and Cumberland continue to play host to out-of-county children,
in large part because entrepreneurs have opened many more homes than the
counties need to serve their own children. These private, mostly for-profit
group homes seek to fill beds by e-mailing and telephoning mental health
agencies around the state, alerting them to empty beds and agreeing to take
residents on short notice.
calls from group homes in Mecklenburg, and we're six hours away," said
Gary Stanley, Edenton-based case management coordinator for Albemarle
Mental Health Center, which serves six coastal counties. Some homes even
offer to help foot the bill for parent visits by paying for transportation
or motels, he said.
children in out-of-county group homes live in adjacent counties, still
close to their own homes. But agencies also place children 100 or more miles
from their homes.
distant placements pull children from relatives and friends who could
support them, experts say. They make family visits, family therapy and
family reunification more difficult, and they complicate case managers'
efforts to monitor residents.
much oversight can you have when you're that far away?" said Diane
Bauknight, leader of a group of Asheville-area parents of troubled and
mentally ill children.
health officials suggested sending Bauknight's 15-year-old daughter, who
suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, to a group home near
Charlotte, Bauknight refused.
health directors say placing children a distance from home removes them
from bad influences, such as gangs or drugs, and discourages them from
running away. Some say their communities simply don't have enough mental
health services or group home beds.
astounding that we could accept this as a children's mental health
system," Bauknight said. "It's dangerous. It's expensive."
knee-jerk kind of thing," said Pat Solomon, coordinator for N.C.
Families United, a support group for families of children with mental
health challenges. "People start saying, `I can't control this child.'
And then (agency officials) say, `Have you thought about putting them out
of home?' "
Kids in Out-of-County Group Homes
state's 33 area mental health agencies, seven had 50 or more children in
group homes outside their home county, as of July 1.
Wake had the most placed
outside their home county -- 89, with 11 in Mecklenburg and 19 in
Gaston, Lincoln and Cleveland counties, had 29 in Mecklenburg, with a total
of 77 out of county.
Human Services, serving Davie, Forsyth and Stokes, had 31 in Mecklenburg, with
a total of 60 out of county.
Highlands Network, serving Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk,
Rutherford, Transylvania and Yancey counties, had 26 in Mecklenburg, with a
total of 50 out of county.