Analysis: Idaho Agrees To Settle 35 Year Old Lawsuit To Help Children With Mental Illness

Jun 16, 2015

It’s a lawsuit that’s been going on since 1980 and it may finally be resolved. Known as the “Jeff D.” lawsuit, it focuses on children’s mental health services in Idaho.

Despite repeated attempts to resolve the 35-year-old case, it keeps coming back. At the core of the issue is Idaho’s system for providing care to kids with mental health problems. The plaintiffs says the state isn’t doing enough for those kids.

The suit was filed on behalf of a boy known as Jeff D. As a child, he was put into State Hospital South alongside sex offenders. Two lawyers visited the hospital in 1979 and started working to get Jeff out, while protecting other children with mental illness.

But Betsy Russell with the Spokesman Review says the case bounced around the courts for decades. It’s been settled and appealed several times. But this time, she says, things appear to be different.

“What’s been different for the last 18 months is the state’s approach to this lawsuit,” says Russell. “Rather than look for ways to get out of this lawsuit, the state started looking for ways to fix the system, to serve kids better.”

The state has agreed to an overhaul of its juvenile mental health care system.

“The changes call for an entirely different approach to children’s mental health services in Idaho," Russell says. "An approach that is community based so that kids with serious emotional disturbances would be identified and offered a whole array of appropriate services while their still in their homes and in their communities."

Idaho has nine months to design a new system to help kids with mental issues and four years to put that system into place. After that, there’s another three years of monitoring until both sides are satisfied.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio