Parents of children with special needs have a keen understanding of the importance of stability, safety, and consistency in their children’s treatment. Finding a high-quality, compassionate psychiatric residential treatment provider to meet the unique needs of each child is incredibly difficult. Finding one in close proximity to family and community is the Holy Grail.
For many Philadelphia families, that trusted partner has been Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. Our children have thrived in Devereux’s residential programs, and as families, we have gained new hope for our children’s futures and the possibilities Devereux has helped us discover.
But last month, following an article in The Inquirer that alleged misconduct, each of our worlds was turned upside down by the ill-informed overreaction by City Council members, the mayor of Philadelphia, and the city’s Department of Human Services to cancel the long-standing residential treatment partnership with Devereux. This decision not only violates clinical best practices for our children, but it was made without any input from families themselves.
It is impossible to describe the sort of devastation and trauma this knee-jerk decision created. A child’s removal from a safe, effective, and compassionate program like Devereux’s, to be placed in an unknown facility, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of miles from home, should not be allowed. Disrupting the successful treatment of our children and moving them to programs that are very likely far away would have significant, lifelong consequences. We can’t even begin to describe the kind of heartbreak this unconscionable act would cause if it means families cannot visit their children and participate in their care.
Devereux has been a sanctuary of healing and progress for our children and for tens of thousands of others. At Devereux, our children are free to learn in a manner that suits them best. They receive state-of-the-art clinical and therapeutic services. Our children are safe. They are happy and thriving, often for the first time in their lives.
It is nearly unimaginable that families were not even consulted before the city made this life-altering decision for us. Our children’s education, treatment, happiness, and safety were all placed at the mercy of a politically motivated action. As parents, we had no choice but to take action to protect our children.
On Sept. 29, a group of us stood before the Pennsylvania House Human Services Committee to educate state legislators about how Devereux has saved our children and the dire consequences of uprooting them from their care. Our children have created meaningful bonds with the experts at Devereux, guided by compassionate staff that genuinely care about their well-being and success.
Thankfully, our individual pleas were heard, and State Rep. Tom Murt has engaged to help us protect and defend our children and our right as parents to be involved in decisions that could irreparably alter the course of all our lives, but each affected family should have the same opportunity to make choices regarding their own child’s health care and education.
We implore the city of Philadelphia to reinstate their long and successful partnership with Devereux. Our policymakers have a sacred obligation to engage and support families in need. The treatment and education of special-needs children is a critical and complex issue. Our leaders need to listen and learn from the families who know best.
Caroline West is the mother of a Devereux Children’s Behavioral Health Services client and a Fairmount resident. Darlene St. John is the grandmother and adoptive mother of a Devereux Pennsylvania Children’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Services (CIDDS) client and a Northeast Philly resident. Anna Malinsky is the mother of a Devereux CIDDS client and a Northeast Philly resident.