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Maine violates ADA in care of children with disabilities, Justice Department says

Exterior of Washington D.C, Justice department building with American flag in foreground, U.S.A.

Maine has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by sending kids with disabilities to mental health facilities as it fails to meet their needs in the community-based services, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Wednesday.

Disability Rights Maine, the protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Maine, filed a complaint with the department on behalf of a group of children with disabilities, alleging that these children cannot access needed community-based services, resulting in their institutionalization or risk of institutionalization in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead. The department’s findings, detailed in a letter to Maine Governor Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey, follow a thorough investigation into the complaint and the State’s system of care for children with behavioral health needs.

Many children with disabilities in Maine, especially those in rural areas or with more intensive needs, are unable to live at home with their families due to a lack of community-based behavioral health services. These services can include assistance with daily activities, behavior management, and individual or family counseling. Community-based behavioral health services also include crisis services that can prevent a child from being institutionalized during a mental health crisis. Absent these services, Maine children with disabilities enter emergency rooms, come into contact with law enforcement, and remain in institutions when many of them could be at home if Maine put in place sufficient community-based services.

“Children with disabilities deserve the opportunity to live at home with the services they need and grow up in the community alongside their nondisabled peers,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “With the increase in children’s mental health needs during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to provide support to children and families. We look forward to bringing Maine into compliance with federal law and achieving a resolution that will benefit children with disabilities across the state.”

“Access to local community-based services for children with mental health and/or developmental disabilities is a critical need for families across Maine,” said U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine. “I hope that the violations identified by the Justice Department can be remedied so that these children and their families are able to obtain quality services in their own communities.”

The department’s investigation found a number of barriers to accessing children’s behavioral health services in the community, including lengthy waitlists, an insufficient provider network, inadequate crisis services, and a lack of support for foster care parents who provide specialized care to children with behavioral health needs. As a result, Maine children must enter in- and out-of-state facilities, or even the state-operated juvenile detention facility, Long Creek Youth Development Center, to receive behavioral health services.

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