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Collaborative Launches Initiative to Protect Rights of Parents with Mental Illnesses
Date:7/8/2008

WASHINGTON, July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Mikayla Bailey Null ran up against her state's discriminatory child custody law when her daughter was wrested from her custody and she had to battle to get her back. To help parents who, like Null, have mental illnesses and who desperately hope, and deserve, to keep or regain custody of their children, the national UPenn Collaborative on Community Integration has launched an initiative to educate legislators around the country in order to challenge state laws and policies that discriminate against such parents. The Collaborative, a national rehabilitation research and training center devoted to promoting community integration for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, is especially targeting state laws that list a mental illness as one of the grounds for not providing "reasonable efforts" to reunify a family: in Alaska, Arizona, California, and Kentucky, as well as in Puerto Rico.

Mikayla Bailey Null's story is a case in point. While on vacation, Null, an Arizonan, had a bad reaction to a medication she had taken. In an ensuing argument with her then-14-year-old daughter, she slapped the girl, who ran out of the cabin. Police arrived, put Null's daughter in foster care and arrested Null. "I was charged with felony child abuse and felony assault because of a slap on the face," she said. "I'm sorry I slapped my daughter but I'm certain that, if I had not had a diagnosis of mental illness, I would not have been charged so severely."

After the girl was released to the custody of Null and her husband, Arizona Child Protective Services made the unfounded assumption that Null posed a chronic threat to her daughter and initiated home visits, despite no evidence of past abuse. After Null asked to discontinue the visits because they so distressed her daughter, child welfare authorities showed up at the girl's school and took her back into foster care. "They put a note on my door," Null recalled. "I can't e
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SOURCE UPenn Collaborative on Community Integration
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