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Racial Disparities in the Involuntary Commitment and Hospitalization of Children

WHEREAS, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") seeks to promote a better understanding of mental health, deter the criminalization of mental illness, prohibit discrimination, and prevent the traumatization of school-aged children under the guise of purported mental health risks; and

WHEREAS, involuntary commitment statutes encourage the involuntary commitment of persons for psychiatric care when voluntary admission seems impossible based on a person's behavior; these statutes apply to both children and adults, often lacking statutory language distinguishing between the treatment of the two; and

WHEREAS, when a child's behavior appears to satisfy the criteria under these statutes, law enforcement officers are permitted to initiate the involuntary examination process by transporting the child to a psychiatric facility without parental input or authorization, often notwithstanding parental objections. The child must often then wait hours or days until the examination is completed; and

WHEREAS, despite the purported intent of involuntary commitment statutes, teachers and police officers are using them to deal with students who may be difficult to manage for reasons unrelated to mental health; and

WHEREAS, civil commitment can have scarring effects on children. Studies have shown that children who are committed to mental institutions are more susceptible to stigmatization and are less likely to seek out voluntary treatment in the future; and

WHEREAS, an international study has shown that in the United States, the odds of involuntary hospitalization for Black children are higher than the odds of involuntary hospitalization for White children. In Florida, for example, nearly 36,000 children per year are committed for psychiatric exams, with Black students being involuntarily committed at twice the rate of White students. In California, Black youth accounted for 14.4% of youth receiving mobile crisis response services from 2016 to 2019 in Los Angeles County, constituting an overrepresentation relative to their population size; and

WHEREAS, some states, such as North Carolina, have not kept consistent or comprehensive records of civil commitment within the state. School districts are often not required to keep or report data regarding the number of times students have been involuntarily hospitalized, the demographics of those children, or whether those children have been involuntarily hospitalized repeatedly; and even when data is collected, it is not done in a uniform manner that would allow for analysis and comparison; and

WHEREAS, information regarding the civil commitment of children is limited, especially compared to the amount of information available regarding the civil commitment of adults. Collecting and analyzing this data on a national scale is crucial to understanding the extent of racial disparities within this context. Current data collection practices result in inconsistency and, therefore, don't provide the factual basis for the widespread reform that may be necessary.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP advocate for the creation of federal, state and municipal requirements for uniform data collection regarding involuntary commitment and hospitalization of children in the United States so that reported information can be analyzed, published to ensure accountability, and used as a basis for legislative modifications and improvements where necessary.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP advocate for a bifurcation of involuntary commitment laws for adults versus minors. The bifurcation process must include a reassessment of each policy, practice and standard to eliminate those that are unsound, unreasonable, and damaging to children.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP will, where possible, in each local unit, under the Commission of Health, establish a list of health care professionals who will volunteer to help legal guardians of those Black children being involuntarily committed to mental health facilities and hospitals, navigate the mental health and medical system.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP will disseminate this Resolution to all relevant Government agencies and officials to engage in a proactive process of policy creation and modification.