Channel 9 looks into mental health care for children

Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association ranked North Carolina last when it comes to children getting mental health care they need.

And, after disturbing allegations of mistreatment at some local treatment centers, there are fewer places for treatment after state investigators moved to shut down troubled facilities.

Local child psychologist Dr. Frank Gaskill said there is a desperate shortage of mental health care for children in North Carolina.

He cited a long list of reasons including funding, training, supervision, leadership, and culture.

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"What's happening is you have poorly trained and poorly funded staff that are emulating a culture of hierarchy, aggression, top-down power that is mimicking some of the clients, the children in these facilities," Gaskill said.

Eyewitness News Anchor Liz Foster asked Gaskill if he believed the system has failed the children and he responded by saying, "Absolutely, 100 percent. There's no question."

There are only 15 psychiatric residential treatment facilities for youth in the state -- two are in Mecklenburg County.

One of the facilities, Thompson Child and Family Focus in Matthews, recently expanded in order to help more young girls.

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Experts told Channel 9 it doesn't make sense that there aren't more facilities in urban areas like Charlotte, which typically have more access to qualified staff.

"It keeps coming back to funding and to be able to buy a nice facility in an ubran area like Charlotte is going to cost a lot of money," Gaskill said.

Channel 9 spoke with Ron Taylor and Iisha Brown, whose 16-year-old daughter has lived in four centers over the past two years, including Anderson Health Services in Marshville.

Last summer, the state shut down the psychiatric treatment center for teens because of disturbing allegations and what investigators called "imminent dangers" including staff members using zip-ties to restrain a 14-year-old girl and a therapist inappropriately touching a teenager.

"It's garbage," Iisha said.

"It's a joke and they don't take it seriously at all," Brown said.

Despite years of budget cuts, Taylor and Brown said they hope lawmakers make mental health funding a priority this year.

They said they want better for their daughter and for all  children who need care and fear the alternative is more people going from the mental health system to the prison system.

"Why build bigger jails when you could just get somebody some help and they could live a regular life," Taylor said. "They could be a working, able-bodied citizen. Not somebody locked away for the rest of their life, wasting government money, state money, and taxpayer money."

Channel 9 has closely followed the state investigations into mental health care centers.

There are hearings scheduled for June involving Anderson Health Services in Union County. A judge will hear the state's findings and decide whether the facility should have a license to operate.