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Advocates: Virginia Needs To Revamp Youth Mental Health Care

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Loudoun County resident Jan Powell has been fighting with the commonwealth's mental health system for months to get treatment for her emotionally disturbed son.
Jonathan Wilson
Loudoun County resident Jan Powell has been fighting with the commonwealth's mental health system for months to get treatment for her emotionally disturbed son.

Nearly a year ago, Ashburn resident Jan Powell made the choice to sign a temporary entrustment, which granted custody of her troubled 15-year-old foster son to Loudoun County's department of family services.

"We thought that was going to get him the help," she says, "but what it did was get him into a youth shelter."

Powell says what her son needs is therapy to help him deal with the years of abuse he suffered before she adopted him.

"So we thought he would be there for a few days, which turned into seven months," Powell says. "And that was seven months of no treatment."

Without treatment, the shelter seemed -- to her, anyway -- nothing more than a place where her son was exposed to other troubled teens.

"After seven months of no treatment, he then comes home, and we're back at square one," she says. "In fact, we're worse off, because now there are other issues to deal with."

Margaret Nimmo Crowe with Voices for Virginia's Children says situations like the Powells' could be avoided with "local crisis teams." The teams are part of a larger action plan to improve the state's youth mental health services that VVC sent to the governor this week.

The group estimates investing in those services would cost Virginia approximately $20 million, but Nimmo Crowe says it will cost more to do nothing. Her group issued a report in May that found mental health services for children severely lacking.

"Children with untreated mental health disorders don't go away; they get worse," she says. "We end up seeing them in our courts, in our emergency rooms, and in costly residential treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals."

Powell says she's not optimistic that improvements will come in time to help her son, who will turn 18 in a few years, but she certainly hopes for change.

"Changes can happen," she says. "We've just got to make them happen. But we've got to start. Now."

Powell's son is currently back in the youth shelter, and though she's finally found a way for him to receive treatment, he's now refusing it.

Read VVC's letter to Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell

Voices for Virginia's Children Letter to Gov. McDonnell

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