Issue #2; February 28, 2005
Protecting Our Children, Saving our Families
Mental illness and substance use disorders are serious and sometimes life-threatening health conditions that thousands of Connecticut citizens struggle with daily. The economic cost to society related to these disorders has been measured in the billions of dollars. I would suggest that the human toll is even greater.
Mental illness and substance use disorders affect almost every aspect of an individual’s life. Imagine what it must be like for a person struggling to recover from a serious mental illness or addictive disorder—the forces that come into play that promote social isolation and cause a person to feel ashamed of their illness. The poverty and compromised health, the lack of jobs, and the shortage of safe, affordable housing and community supports, all add to the complexity of these serious health conditions and present obstacles to recovery. It takes great courage and commitment to contend with these problems. We, as a society, need to relate to those among us who live with behavioral health conditions and provide care and supports for the sake of the individual, for families, for communities, and for the sake of investing our tax dollars wisely.
Among the greatest tragedies suffered by individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders is the threat of losing custody of their children. Often this threat deters folks from seeking the very treatment and supports that will help them to be better parents. While the numbers are astoundingly large, we must remember that the impact on each individual man, woman and child represented is heartbreaking.
Nearly 80 percent of the children in out-of-home placements are from families where mental illness or substance use conditions are present.
There are more than 4,400 children in foster and relative care in Connecticut today at a cost of $59 million per year.
National expert in substance abuse and child protection, Dr. Nancy Young, advocates that treatment for substance use disorders would preserve families or reconnect children with their parents resulting in millions of dollars in taxpayer savings for foster and relative care—a “win-win” situation for everyone.
Whether you consider this issue from the perspective of compassion for parents and children in families that are at risk of or that have been torn apart due to a serious mental health or substance use condition, or from the perspective of the hard economic facts related to child protection, both of these view points lead to the same compelling conclusion. We must address effective health promotion, early identification, treatment and recovery-supports for mental health and substance abuse concerns as a viable, compassionate and cost-effective solution to many of our child protection issues.
Comments are welcome at Sue.Tanner@po.state.ct.us
A "win-win" situation: reconnect children. . . preserve families. . . save millions.