More kids being admitted to state’s psychiatric hospital for children

More kids being admitted to state’s psychiatric hospital for children
The Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents is the only state psychiatric hospital that accepts children. (Source: University of Virginia Medical School / Virginia Mercury)

Virginia’s mental health system is struggling. It offers people seeking treatment few community resources and relies heavily on crisis care that has forced state hospitals to regularly operate dangerously close to full capacity.

And children seeking treatment are facing the same problems, with one big difference. Only one state psychiatric facility accepts children: the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton.

With 48 beds, the center has been forced to adjust to the reality that more children and teens are being admitted for treatment involuntarily through temporary detention orders, or TDOs, than ever before. They’ve limited other types of admissions so very few voluntary patients are treated there.

“We do occasionally take a transfer from a private hospital, rarely a voluntary admission,” said Dr. Jack Barber, the facility’s acting director. “What the center’s task (is), primarily, at this point, is stabilization after a crisis. It’s no longer a place where people are going to stay for weeks and months and get psychotherapy and that sort of thing.”

The shift of focus adds to the sense that Virginia’s mental health system is lopsided in favor of crisis care.

Some parents, whose child would otherwise have been a voluntary placement, may seek treatment via a temporary detention order if they think it’s their only option, said Margaret Nimmo Holland, executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children.

“When a child really needs treatment and a parent can’t get it any other way, and they can’t get in the front door, they’re going to find another way to get in,” she said.

“And you can’t blame them. They’re going to do anything they can to help their kids.”