Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the state of Maine had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding children with mental health and developmental disabilities. Its investigation arose from a complaint filed by Disability Rights Maine, an advocacy agency. Disability Rights Maine argued that the state over-institutionalized these children because it did not provide adequate community-based behavioral health services. These services play a vital role in preventing a child from being institutionalized by helping to manage their mental health crises, while providing counseling and assistance with behavior management.
Problems with access to community-based behavioral health services in Maine include not only inadequate crisis services but also daunting waitlists and an insufficient provider network. These issues and others have resulted in unnecessarily segregating children with disabilities in psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment facilities, and a state-operated juvenile detention facility so that they can receive the services that they need. The Department of Justice noted that these children could stay at home, avoiding contact with law enforcement and prolonged institutional stays, if the state implemented adequate community-based services. Through the opportunity to live at home, children with disabilities can lead more stable lives with stronger ties to their communities. A Department of Justice representative noted that this issue has become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a surge in mental health concerns among children.
The Department of Justice released its findings on the anniversary of the Olmstead v. L.C. decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing for the majority in that 1999 case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded that a state must place people with mental disabilities in community settings rather than institutions when certain requirements are met. State treatment professionals must determine that community placement is appropriate, the affected individual must not oppose the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting, and the placement must be something that can be reasonably accommodated. The Department of Justice now will work to bring Maine into compliance with the ADA and the Olmstead decision so that children in the state can enjoy the protections to which they are entitled.
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