Parents Give Up Custody Of Adopted Kids To Get Them Mental Health Help

By Lindsey Weedston 01/08/19

"To this day, it is the most gut-wrenching thing I've ever had to do in my life," said one parent who gave up custody of his child.

two parents try to soothe their child

Every year, adoptive parents find themselves with no choice other than to give up custody of their mentally ill children to the state. This issue is outlined in a recent profile done by NPR about a family that was torn apart because the state of Illinois failed to provide the care they were supposed to give to an adopted child. 

Daniel Hoy endured severe neglect as an infant before he was adopted by Toni and Jim Hoy when he was still a baby. In spite of a happy childhood, Daniel began to exhibit signs of severe mental illness after he entered the public school system at age 10. He began to experience bouts of violent behavior, attacking classmates and his siblings due to his severe anxiety and PTSD.

When intensive inpatient care was recommended, the Hoys' health insurance company denied coverage for the $100,000 per year treatment plan. Although states are supposed to cover mental health treatment for any children adopted through the government, Illinois also denied the family coverage for the desperately needed program.

Eventually, after Daniel threw his brother down the stairs, state authorities gave Toni and Jim an ultimatum. They could either take Daniel home and be charged with child endangerment the next time he harmed one of his siblings or leave him in the hospital, lose custody and be charged with neglect.

If Daniel was in the custody of the state of Illinois, the government would be forced to give him the recommended $100,000 treatment. Desperate and out of options, Toni and Jim abandoned their little boy. 

"To this day, it is the most gut-wrenching thing I've ever had to do in my life," Jim told NPR. ". . . I was crying terribly. . . . But it was the only way we figured we could keep the family safe."

The Hoys had to sue the state of Illinois in order to force them to cover the treatment, but by the time he was back in the family, he was 15 years old. 

This has been a problem for thousands of other families across the US who find that the child they adopted has mental health issues. A study by the Government Accountability Office published in 2003 found that there are around 12,000 cases like this each year. More recent figures are not available as only one third of US states keep track of how many kids are given up in order to ensure they get proper mental health care.

According to mental health experts, the care these kids do get is often too little, too late. Unfortunately, state mental health services are often woefully underfunded by the federal government, and even less goes into preventative care and early intervention.

Source: NAMI

Early intervention is important. Children with severe mental illnesses who receive prompt intensive care tend to fare much better than those who have to wait due to money issues or a simple lack of programs in the area.

“The research has shown that the earlier we can intervene, particularly with evidence-based interventions, the better outcomes we see later on,” said New York psychologist Danielle Rannazzisi, PhD. “The early years of childhood lay a foundation for future academic, social, emotional, and behavioral success.”

Many states were forced to make severe cuts to mental health services during the recession of 2007 to 2009. That funding never recovered, and funding for mental health has been cut further under the Trump administration. Without that funding, states can't afford to provide the care needed by kids like Daniel.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: