Mind Matters: If I have a mental illness, will my kids be taken away?

Photo by fasphotographic / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

FEATURE — The stigma and prejudice associated with parenting while living with a mental health challenge is nothing new. Many parents will find themselves in a place where they want to seek mental health help – whether it is for depression, an illness or possibly a breakdown –  but they find themselves hesitating because of the fear of what may happen to their families if they choose to seek help.

The good news is that seeking help from a therapist, doctor or mental health specialist for a mental illness doesn’t automatically lead to having your children taken away from you.

In fact, in 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Justice issued a document entitled: “Protecting the Rights of Parents and Prospective Parents with Disabilities: Technical Assistance for State and Local Child Welfare Agencies and Courts under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

It’s a long title, but in short, this document asserts that children should not be removed from parents unless there exists a specific threat or danger to the child. As a result, a parent with mental illness has the right to receive support and services that can assist them with retaining their parental rights, even while struggling with a mental illness.

However, therapists do have to follow their duty to report child abuse or neglect under Utah Code 62A-4a-403. If by chance your situation falls under this act, Division of Child and Family Services will be contacted.

“I have to see that there has been neglect or abuse (before placing the call),” said Diane Tuft, a mental health therapist at Southwest Behavioral Health Center in Cedar City, adding that she would make the call if she had appropriate concerns or encountered something she is mandated to report.

Read more: Mind Matters: From employment to crisis, Southwest Behavioral can help in a lot of ways

In-home services offered by DCFS may include teaching parenting skills, developing child safety plans, teaching conflict resolution and problem-solving skills and linking the family to broad-based community resources.

When it comes to a therapist’s responsibility to report such instances, Tuft even said that unless there is serious risk to the safety of a child, she will usually will have the client or parent report it themselves. At the least, she will let them know that a report is being made.

“This way they are not surprised,” she said.

But so long as there aren’t concerns or abuse or neglect, a parent who is struggling should not hesitate to seek help.

“As a therapist, if someone comes in to seek help for a mental health issue, that alone will not mandate a call to Department of Children and Family Services,” Tuft said.

Written by HEIDI BAXLEY, Iron County Prevention Coalition coordinator, and LAUREN MCAFEE, Cedar City Library in the Park grant and development officer.

About the “Mind Matters” Series

As the Mind Matters series continues, we will highlight several Southern Utah mental health providers and organizations, as well as success stories, but if you or someone you know is seeking help or resources now, go to the following websites:

If you or someone you know needs helps immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. There is help and hope available.

St. George News “Mind Matters” series aims to illuminate how mental illnesses affect society and how to maintain mental health.

Articles are contributed by Cedar City Library in the Park in partnership with the Iron County Prevention Coalition and will highlight available resources people may access in Southern Utah and online. However, if you have a success story you would like to share as part of the series, email Heidi Baxley at [email protected] or Lauren McAfee at [email protected].

Read more: All the articles in the Mind Matters series

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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