Lack of Funding Puts California’s Special Education Students at Risk
California students with mental health disabilities are encountering problems receiving proper education and mental health services due to the state’s budget deficit. Among those targeted for $133 million in funding cuts are mental health organizations that provide psychiatric and residential treatment for children unable to function in academic settings. Funding is key to providing early intervention, diagnosis and care to children with autism and a range of other mental illnesses.
A Temporary Fix
Advocates for mental health and disability rights, such as Public Counsel (the nation’s largest pro-bono law firm) and Disability Rights California, recently filed a class-action suit against the funding cuts, stating the governor’s ruling was a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuits temporarily restored programs for students in Los Angeles County, and the Department of Education released $76 million as alternative funding for short-term services – a temporary fix.
The California Psychiatric Association has discussed using Proposition 63 funds as an option to better support community-based mental health programs and involuntary care. Proposition 63 was passed in late 2004, providing the Department of Mental Health with funds for children, youth, adults, elders and families in need. However, a Children’s Advocacy Institute press release stated Proposition 63 did not provide the funding or services it said it would, and more than 90% of children were not having their needs met.
Do the Right Thing
California should follow through with voter-approved propositions and refrain from diverting mental health funding to other budget expenditures. We can’t fund programs on promises. Granted the state has had fiscal challenges, but draining money from early intervention services and shortchanging our children and families is not the answer. As social workers, we need to be aware of how these cuts will affect our clients and their access to the types of services we provide. Legislative leaders may think they are saving money now, but failing to treat mental health problems early only leads to larger issues later on, including higher rates of homelessness, suicide and high-school dropouts, costing us all. As MSW@USC students, we need to join the mental health community in speaking out against further waste of resources and fight to change the course of local funding.