Many parents with mental illness will face a number of challenges regarding child custody. Unfortunately, many of these individuals don’t seek mental health services out of fear of losing custody. The custody loss rate for parents who have a mental illness ranges between 70-80 percent.
Mental Illness and Custody Loss
The high custody loss rate among parents with mental illness is the often due to the severity of the condition and the lack of a perceivably competent adult to raise the child at home.
Parents don’t necessarily need to have a diagnosed mental illness to lose custody, either. Certain symptoms such as adverse side effects of medications or disorientation may be viewed as indicators of parental unfitness. Many caseworkers are also likely to file reports of suspected neglect or child abuse if a parent displays these symptoms, studies have found.
Loss of custody can actually be more harmful for parents with mental illness, which can make it even more challenging for them to regain custody once lost.
Keeping Kids Safe Through Legal Intervention
While parents have the right to have and raise children on their own, the government can potentially intervene if their children face abuse or neglect, or any perceived imminent danger. The state may gain permission to remove the child from his or her parents and provide foster care.
As of November 19, 1997, the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, Public Law 105-89 (ASFA) has been in place to help determine if children require foster care or if they can remain with their families. The Act also identifies specific timelines that determine when a child can move into a permanent home following foster care, either with a parent, relative, in an adoptive home, or other planned living arrangement.
The ASFA is also responsible for helping ensure that parents with mental illness aren’t discriminated against because of their condition.
Making Sure Families Stay Together
Concerns over custody can exacerbate mental illness and stress. The lack of sufficient support along with the misconceptions surrounding mental illness also make things more difficult for families.
Advocates can do a number of things to help keep families together, including helping parents understand rights and acquire legal assistance when needed. This way parents with mental illness don’t have to worry about a lack of options regarding custody.