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Maine over-institutionalizes children with disabilities, Justice Department says

Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland is pictured on Nov. 17, 2016.
Troy R. Bennett
Bangor Daily News
Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland is pictured on Nov. 17, 2016.

The U.S. Department of Justice has found that Maine violates the civil rights of children with disabilities by institutionalizing them instead of providing community supports that would keep them with their families. Disability Rights Maine filed a complaint with the DOJ, alleging the lack of community-based behavioral health services results in children remaining in psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment facilities, and the state juvenile detention facility.

"We hope today is the day that Maine will, with the type of urgency that's required, will turn away from these expensive and ineffectual institutional solutions toward a system that supports youth, in their homes and in their communities," said Atlee Reilly, the legal director for Disability Rights Maine.

The investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division found Maine's behavioral health providers had lengthy waitlists, inadequate coverage in rural areas, insufficient crisis services, and lacked support for foster parents of special needs children.

The findings come on the 23rd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Olmstead versus L.C., which held that people with disabilities have a right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, typically in their communities.

The Justice Department recommends remedial measures that include ensuring children have access to existing community based services in a timely manner to avoid institutionalization, providing crisis services to avoid involving law enforcement and institutions, and investing in the state's behavioral health system to provide adequate services for children and foster parents across the state.