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Nebraska’s Abandoned Kids are Mostly Mentally Ill

There’s an even more tragic story behind the news of people traveling from around the country to drop off their unwanted children in Nebraska, since they enacted a law a few weeks ago that allowed any child under 18 years of age to be handed over to the state with no questions asked of the parent or guardian.

Thirty of the 34 children dropped off had previously received mental health treatment, 11 of them at an intensive or inpatient level.

In other words, these weren’t just unwanted children. These were unwanted children that mostly suffered from ignored, under-treated or untreated mental health concerns.

The Iowa Independent has the story:

“If we would have had this same law in Iowa, the same thing would have happened here,” Estle said. “I suspect that if we really look at the kids who are being dropped off in Nebraska — particularly the adolescents — many of those will be young people who have serious emotional problems. My hunch is that parents are utterly frustrated at not being able to access services. So, they are using that law as an act of desperation because they can’t get services.”

It’s not that their parents and guardians haven’t tried, it’s just that such services can be hard to find and may be even harder to pay for. Such is the story of Carrisa Gatley:

Such was definitely the case for former Iowa resident Carrisa Gatley, a single parent who has an 11-year-old son with severe mental disabilities. She hasn’t left her kid in Nebraska but she admits she could imagine it.

“Shortly after [our son] turned 3, my husband left,” Gatley said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I didn’t blame him. I actually envied him — that he could escape the hell that came with trying to deal with everything.”

Gatley said it wasn’t just her son’s violent episodes, which have become increasingly dangerous as he’s grown older, but the constant and often depressing task of fighting with the insurance company, medication changes, food restrictions and trying to locate service providers.

Indeed, Gatley’s story isn’t unique. There’s no dearth of people who find navigating the current mental health system — especially if you are poor or have a small income with little or no health insurance — daunting and frustrating. And what’s worse is that even if you do find adequate treatment for your child, the associated costs of medications may simply be too much.

If you’re one of the “lucky” ones who have insurance coverage for your dependent child for a mental illness, plan on spending hours every month on the phone ensuring treatment is paid for and you can find a new treatment provider when your old one leaves the plan because of poor reimbursement and too much paperwork. (Therapists, too, spend hours every month on the same phone calls with insurance companies, trying desperately to track down missing payments, or payments for services they’ve provided but the insurance company later decides they don’t want to reimburse for.)

This is growing epidemic in America, one where we increasingly label misbehaving children as “mentally ill,” and then seek to prescribe off-label powerful antipsychotic medications to try and help.

While I have no doubt we’re finding an uptick in childhood diagnoses for such (questionable) disorders as pediatric bipolar disorder because of a real recognition of these very real problems in some children, I also think some professionals who are in a position to make such diagnoses may be over-diagnosing children based upon inadequate criteria and perhaps poor judgment.

It will take action on the part of each individual state to help fix the problems with their mental health treatment and care systems. And it will be difficult in an economy and environment like the one we have today. But Nebraska has shown this is not something that you can just sweep under the rug. Because if you do, the children ultimately will be the ones to suffer.

Read the full article: Behind Nebraska’s abandoned kids, a national shortage of mental health care

Nebraska’s Abandoned Kids are Mostly Mentally Ill

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Nebraska’s Abandoned Kids are Mostly Mentally Ill. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Nov 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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