- Associated Press - Saturday, September 22, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The state has hired a private consulting firm to review how Maine provides mental health services to children after an advocacy group urged the state to improve such services.

The Boston-based Public Consulting Group is working with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on a review of Maine’s behavioral health services system, The Bangor Daily News reported.

The state previously faced lawsuits in 1997 and 2000 over its children’s mental health services. The lawsuits resulted in years of court oversight to ensure children weren’t waiting longer than six months for needed mental health services, as federal law requires.

The state and the advocacy group Disability Rights Maine have been in negotiations on the issue for months, in hopes of preventing another lawsuit against the state.

“Some of the great benefits of it are really looking toward solutions, both short and long term, about how to address huge gaps in services and early intervention,” said Katrina Ringrose, a children’s advocate at Disability Rights Maine.

The review could end by the end of 2018 or early 2019, according to Emily Spencer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services. She told the newspaper that the firm’s “expert perspective will produce valuable observations into the system and recommendations to increase access and quality of the services.”

Spencer declined to disclose how much Public Consulting Group would be paid to review children’s behavioral health services.

The state last reviewed the system in 1997, when lawmakers wanted to reduce how many kids were sent to psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment facilities in Maine and outside the state.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley recently said Maine lacked alternatives besides incarceration for children with mental illness.

The newspaper has reported that hundreds of child with mental health challenges are on waitlists for services. Meanwhile, dozens of children have been seen to out-of-state treatment facilities.

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