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Meet Christine Herman, Carter Center Fellow for Mental Health Journalism

Radio reporter Christine Herman, a 2018–19 fellow, produced a series of stories for Illinois Public Media on a dilemma faced by parents of children with severe mental illnesses. In certain situations, parents in Illinois must technically abandon a child to obtain necessary treatment for the child. The heart-rending choice puts the children in the custody of the state, which then becomes responsible for their very costly residential care.

“It’s traumatic to the parents, it’s traumatic for the child, but it happens, and it happens to about a hundred kids a year in Illinois alone,” Herman said.

Herman’s reporting on “planned abandonment” aired nationwide on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and Herman heard from parents across the country who were in the same situation. Illinois had enacted legislation in 2015 that is supposed to help many families avoid the custody dilemma, but Herman's reporting revealed the problem is ongoing and that more needs to be done. In July 2019, Illinois took additional steps to prevent parents of some youths involved in the juvenile court system from having to give up custody to access mental health services.

Herman said her Carter Center fellowship made it possible for her to do the story.

“I had not reported very much on mental health issues before,” she said. “I wanted to do it well, I wanted to do it right, I wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t further stigmas, and I knew that having the extra support and training that comes with the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship would be really beneficial.”

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Herman on NPR: To Get Mental Health Help For A Child, Desperate Parents Relinquish Custody

The Carter Center is guided by the principles of our Founders, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Founded, in partnership with Emory University, on a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering, the Center seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.

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