A preliminary settlement reached this week would require the state to provide more effective mental health care for children who are in or soon to be in foster care, California Watch reports.
The state said about 10,000 children would qualify for improved mental health care under the settlement.
In 2002, children's advocates filed a class-action lawsuit against the California Department of Social Services, the Department of Health Services and several Los Angeles County agencies.
The lawsuit stated that one of the plaintiffs, a child in California's foster care system, did not receive an adequate psychological assessment and did not receive mental health treatment until two years after she was placed in foster care.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs have argued that failing to diagnose conditions or supply sufficient mental health care services to children ultimately could lead to psychiatric hospitalizations and entry into the juvenile delinquency system.
Los Angeles County settled the case in 2003 and has:
- Boosted access to treatment;
- Established in-home mental health care services; and
- Implemented a system to track children who receive such services.
Details of the Settlement
Under the agreement, the state would establish standards to train and monitor for "medically necessary" mental health care as required by federal law.
The settlement also would require the use of mental health care strategies that national experts and agencies have said are effective.
Michael Weston, a spokesperson for the state social services department, said the agency will focus on implementing changes once the settlement is finalized.
A report from a court-appointed official noted that the state's realignment plan to shift certain services, such as mental health care, to county authority could create additional costs in implementing the agreement.
Children's advocates praised the preliminary settlement and acknowledged that there could be cost increases incurred at the state and county level to provide the mental health services. However, they also said that providing the care described in the settlement could result in savings over the long term.
The preliminary settlement is expected to be finalized in December. Children who would be affected by the settlement will start being notified in October (Yeung, California Watch, 9/30).