Roughly 5% of children are classified as having a serious emotional disturbance.  Children with a serious emotional disturbance may require extensive and costly medical, behavioral and educational supports.  For many families, appropriate resources are difficult to locate and afford.  Although exact numbers are not known, anecdotal evidence suggests that some families seek and/or are advised to relinquish the custody and care of their children to the foster care system in order to obtain mental health care for their child.  In Texas, entry into the foster care system requires there to be maltreatment of the child by a caregiver.  Thus, some parents face a very difficult dilemma in attempting to find help for their child.

Given this dilemma and anecdotes from families, the 83rd Texas Legislature required DFPS and DSHS to produce a study to develop recommendations to prevent parents from relinquishing custody and care of a child with a serious emotional disturbance.  The research team at the Child and Family Research Institute conducted a needs assessment of families in Texas.

Interviews were conducted with parents (n=5) and stakeholders (n=10).  Online surveys were made available to both parents(n=28) and stakeholders (n=31) across the state through email listserves and websites.  A cost analysis was also conducted to examine the cost of caring for children with a serious emotional disturbance in foster care.

Findings suggest that while families may be able to access some services, they need access to the services most useful to them.  In particular, families desired wraparound services, supportive case management, quality psychiatric services and in-home care.   The primary conclusion of the study is that treatment of serious emotional disturbance is a public health issue rather than a child protection issue.  Additionally Findings from this study are being used by DSHS, DFPS and the Legislature to develop policy changes in the 84th legislative session.