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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Throwaway Kids

Aired July 14, 2003 - 20:50   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Can you imagine having to give up your children so they can get desperately needed mental health services? Well, every year as many as 25,000 mostly middle class American families face that agonizing decision. So says California Congressman Pete Stark who begins a hearing tomorrow on this horrifying plight and, one of the witnesses will be Cynthia Yonan, a mother who experienced it. They both join us from Washington tonight.
Good of you to join us.

Cynthia, I'm going to start with you this evening. You faced one of the most horrible decisions any parent would have to make. You have two terribly ill sons who needed long-term care for their mental illnesses that you couldn't afford. Your choice was either to turn them over to the state or keep them at home with the rest of your family. How tough was it to arrive at your decision?

CYNTHIA YONAN, MOTHER OF MENTALLY DISABLED SONS: Well, it was utterly the most horrendous thing I've ever done in my life. I -- it was -- with the prospect of keeping my sons home with my two younger daughters and my older one -- they were very much out of control. They were dangerous to themselves and other people. And when I searched for help, there was nothing to be found at a local level. I went to state levels. And it was one of the worst things I've ever gone through.

I had to quit my job so I could stay home with my sons because they had to be watched 24 hours a day. One of them attempted suicide three times, and the other one became homicidal. And for -- in this two-year period, I had contacted as many local health facilities and health departments and agencies trying to get help for these children. And every time they -- I would explain the situation and I would explain that my insurance would run out, I was told that the only way I could secure help for them was to sign them over to the state. And I couldn't add any more trauma to my sons' lives. And I thought that was the worst thing anybody could ask a mother to do and I don't think anyone should have to go through that.

ZAHN: And yet Congressman Stark, give us a perspective this evening on how many families had to do just that. And you're not talking about wealthy families who can find care or underprivileged families who often have a social service safety net. But you're talking about middle class families children falling through the cracks, right? REP. PETE STARK (D), CALIFORNIA: Precisely. They're too well to do, to qualify for Medicaid, and yet either through lack of insurance from their employer or be able to afford insurance don't have the kind of -- the means to provide this care for their children.

We're not talking about children or parents who neglect or abuse their children. We're talking about parents that want to make a stable, loving family environment and provide the kind of care that their children need. And the experts in mental health feel that the families should be added part of the protocol for providing good mental health care to these children, keeping them in the home or keeping the parents involved in their care. And I guess the worst thing the child could feel is that the parent have abandoned them and that would be tragic.

And it's just the system. It's an old-fashioned system, goes back beyond Medicaid when you used have to -- a father had to abandon his children to make them qualify for aid for dependent children. And we just haven't brought the system into the -- even the 20th Century yet.

ZAHN: Well, I know that's what you're attempting to do in these two-day hearings. Thank you, Congressman Stark, for bringing this to our attention. And Cynthia, I don't think anybody in our audience can help but respect you for the choice you made and as difficult as it has been for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your story with us tonight. Good luck to both of you.

STARK: Thank you.

YONAN: Thank you.

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