Monday, June 29, 2009

We Must Have Human Services in Illinois

About an hour ago, I read a story in the Chicago Tribune titled "Parents cope with child with schizophrenia - Jani's at the mercy of her mind." It was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

According to the story, 6-year old January Schofield has schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects 1% of adults and usually appears in the late-teens or early 20s. Of those, 10% commit suicide. Childhood-onset of schizophrenia affects about 1 of 30,000-50,000 kids under the age of 13, but when it happens in children, it's 20-30 times worse than in adults.

Although Jani's IQ is 146 (high IQs are not uncommon for people with mental illnesses), January is controlled by the voices in her mind - animals and people. Anti-psychotic drugs that work for most adults don't come close to helping control her illness. Her parents have tried everything they can. They've been passed from doctor to doctor without a diagnosis and even accused of bad parenting, until recently when they finally received the schizophrenia diagnosis. The schools aren't equipped to help Jani and the residential programs for kids serve abused or neglected children, but not severely mentally ill ones.

There are no respite care programs to help the Schofields and family has pulled away. Mrs. Schofield was fired from her job last year and they are struggling financially, but she can't look for another one because Jani needs constant supervision.

This family is barely hanging on. I can only assume that they went to the press with their story in an effort to help other families, but also in the desperate hope that someone might see their story and be able to assist Jani and her family.

Yes, the Schofields live in California, but their story is typical of countless families across the country, including Illinois, who have developmentally disabled or mentally disabled children and struggle to provide the best care for them and mantain their own sense of family while not bankrupting themselves.

As a society, we owe it to the Schofields and all the families they represent to help ease their burdens. It's time for Illinois politicians to get off their rear-ends and guarantee that human services funding will not be cut and that human services will never be held hostage in budget wars again. The time for excuses is over.

That which we do to the least of us, we do to ourselves.

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