Your recent Focus column on the trials of Donna Smith and family (“One mother’s ordeal to stave off tragedy” Jan. 8) represented an unfortunate and unnecessary situation for hundreds of families in North Carolina. We have known what to do to avoid or meet these “tragedies” for years, but we just haven’t made it happen.
It may be time to reconsider whether our current diligent philosophy and application of policies of deinstitutionalization, least restrictive environment and full inclusion in the community haven’t been overzealous and worked to the detriment of many seriously mentally ill children and youth and their families by holding back needed residential services.
There is a place for short-term intensive treatment in residential facilities. It is not the county jail, a correctional center, an emergency room or a group home.
What is needed is a new statewide program of small, regional residential centers near families in need, immediately accessible, well-staffed and seriously short-term. Public-private partnerships can build them and run them under the watchful eyes of parent and advocacy organizations.
Let’s not ignore the realities of family and child mental health needs as our state passes 10 million in population with fewer and fewer available resources to deal with “tragedies.”
Former member, N.C. Mental Health Commission