New York Let Residences for Kids With Serious Mental Health Problems Vanish. Desperate Families Call the Cops Instead.
Sarah Blesener for ProPublica

Taylor searched desperately for help, signing Amari up for therapy and putting her on waitlists for intensive, in-home mental health services that are supposed to be available to New York kids with serious psychiatric conditions. But the programs were full, and it took months to get in.

During Amari’s worst episodes, Taylor had little choice but to call 911 — which Taylor, who is Black, said made her nauseous with fear. She and Amari live just a few miles from the block where Daniel Prude, a Black man with a history of paranoia and erratic behavior, was hooded and pinned to the ground by police until he stopped breathing, in a 2020 incident that began after his brother called 911 for help. Prude died days later at the hospital. In 2021, a video went viral that showed Rochester police officers handcuffing a 9-year-old Black girl and pepper-spraying her in the face while she sat, sobbing, in the back of a squad car. Every time police entered her home, Taylor was terrified that Amari would end up hurt or dead.

“We know that Black children with mental illness are criminalized,” Taylor said. “When you have men with guns coming into your house to handle your sick child, that’s frightening.”

Several months earlier, in 2019, Taylor had filled out paperwork to apply for a place where she thought Amari would be safe: a residential treatment facility for kids with very serious mental health conditions. But the application was still pending in March 2020, and Taylor had no idea how long it might be before Amari got a spot.

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