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Highlights

Recent news articles in over 30 states and prominent mental health advocacy organizations have described the difficulty many parents have in accessing mental health services for their children. As these reports documented, some parents choose to place their children in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems in order to obtain the mental health services that their children need. Senators Susan Collins and Joseph Lieberman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs asked GAO to testify on: (1) the number and characteristics of children voluntarily placed in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems to receive mental health services, (2) the factors that influence such placements, and (3) promising state and local practices that may reduce the need for child welfare and juvenile justice placements. This testimony is based on our April 2003 report on the results of a study addressing these same objectives. For that report, we surveyed state child welfare directors in all states and the District of Columbia and juvenile justice officials in 33 counties in the 17 states with the largest populations of children under age 18. We surveyed juvenile justice officials at the county level because of the decentralized nature of the juvenile justice system. We also researched laws and regulations and conducted site visits to 6 states.

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