PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine is unnecessarily institutionalizing young people with mental and developmental disabilities due to a lack of sufficient community services that would allow children to stay in their homes, the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday. by declaring a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Justice Department conducted its investigation after advocacy group Disability Rights Maine filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of children. The advocacy organization said children were unable to access community services, resulting in institutionalization or risk of institutionalization that violated the ADA.
The Justice Department agrees, saying it has found that many disabled children in Maine are unable to live with their families due to the state’s lack of community services. That means children in the state are entering emergency rooms, coming into contact with law enforcement, and then staying in institutions when they might otherwise stay at home, the department said.
“I hope the violations identified by the Justice Department can be corrected so that these children and their families can obtain quality services in their own communities,” said U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine in a statement.
The Justice Department findings indicate that the state suffers from long waiting lists, too few behavioral health care providers, and a lack of crisis services and foster parent support. That means many children must enter facilities, including out-of-state facilities and the state-run Long Creek Youth Development Center juvenile detention center, to receive behavioral health services, the report found. department.
The Justice Department’s findings include numerous recommendations for how the state can comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recommendations include using more state resources to maintain a pool of community service providers. Another recommendation states that Maine should implement a policy that requires providers to serve eligible children and prohibits denial of services.
The administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that improving behavioral health services for children in Maine is one of its goals. The administration also said shortcomings in the state’s behavioral health system go back many years and the COVID-19 pandemic has set back progress.
“We share a strong sense of urgency to ensure Maine’s children with disabilities have timely access to a range of high-quality, evidence-based services that prevent institutionalization wherever possible – and we will continue to work diligently towards that end,” said Jackie Farwell. , spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Representatives for Disability Rights Maine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department report says Maine’s lack of behavioral health services has allowed Long Creek, the state’s only juvenile justice facility, to fill the void. The report states that its investigation found that “the lack of community behavioral health services in Maine leads to unnecessary and prolonged incarceration.” It says the state uses Long Creek as a “de facto children’s mental institution.”
The future of Long Creek has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Mills vetoed a bill to shut down the facility last year.
Associated Pres writer David Sharp contributed to this report.