After 18 months of negotiations, Idaho has agreed to settle the long-running Jeff D. lawsuit over children’s mental health services in the state, committing to remake its system of providing care to youngsters with mental illness. It’s a case that’s continued through 35 years, five governors, four judges, six appeals, and four previous settlements that failed. When the case was first filed in 1980, kids with mental illness in Idaho – like the lead plaintiff, Jeff Davis – were committed to state mental hospitals where they received no treatment, no schooling, and were housed with adult sex offenders.
Much has changed in Idaho because of the lawsuit. Now, all sides say the state is poised to set up a system that will ensure kids with serious mental problems and their families get appropriate services they can access from their homes and communities – a system that could become a model.
“Hopefully we will see results – I expect it,” said Howard Belodoff, the Boise attorney who was just two years out of law school when he first took on the case in 1980, and has pursued it ever since on behalf of the children of Idaho.
When Belodoff first encountered 17-year-old Davis at State Hospital South in 1979, the youngster begged the lawyer to get him out of there. His troubled life included seeing abusive foster parents beat his 4-year-old sister to death when he was just 2 years old; he grew up to be a transient who was in and out of mental hospitals. “You intervene earlier, and you can expect a better result,” Belodoff said. “You don’t want any more Jeff D.’s.”
The settlement, filed with the U.S. District Court in Boise on Friday and personally signed by Gov. Butch Otter, commits the state to a new, integrated system in which children with serious mental health issues will be identified and offered a broad array of community-based services, and all state agencies, from juvenile justice to Health and Welfare to the schools, will collaborate. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the settlement agreement here; it starts on page 7 of the 67-page document, which also includes associated motions and orders.