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Giving Up Child Custody For Mental Health Care

Anthony Kelly
Creative Commons

There are a group of Connecticut parents who feel they must relinquish custody of  their “high needs” children in order to get them into residential treatment programs when in-home services are inadequate to meet their needs. 

Many years ago, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families chose to move children out of residential treatment centers and back to their families or foster care. Most agree it was a good move; residential care is expensive and many kids do better at home.

Some wonder if we've gone too far. The combined effect of the closing of residential centers, budget restrictions, and lack of available community resources to fill the void have led to a perfect storm. 

Connecticut is not the only state to use the 'custody-for-care' loophole. It still happens in 44 states, even though 26 of those states have statutes or policies to prevent it. Connecticut has significantly decreased its use over the last decade, but not enough.

No one is a bad actor in this story. Parents do the best they can under difficult and stressful circumstances. DCF does the best they can within the reality of political and budgetary pressures. And there are systemic problems with the way insurance, hospitals, and schools are set-up to deal with the expensive and complex needs of some children.  

Today, we take a look. 


  • Juliana Schatz Preston- Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations - formerly known as The Investigative Fund - and Reveal. She’s also an independent filmmaker based in New York. The documentary version of “A Desperate Bargain” she produced will be out at Frontline later in April
  • Bet Gailor - Attorney at Connecticut Legal Services
  • Maureen O’Neill Davis - Co-founder of “Family Forward Advocacy CT,” legislative advocate for the attachment and trauma network, and the adopted parent of two kinship children
  • Susan Russell - Parent of three children she adopted from the state welfare system

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Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show.

Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.

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